Living Reviews in Solar Physics, Volume 13, Issue 1, article id. 4, 84 pp.
del Toro Iniesta, Jose Carlos; Ruiz Cobo, Basilio
Since the early 1970s, inversion techniques have become the most useful tool for inferring the magnetic, dynamic, and thermodynamic properties of the solar atmosphere. Inversions have been proposed in the literature with a sequential increase in model complexity: astrophysical inferences depend not only on measurements but also on the physics assumed to prevail both on the formation of the spectral line Stokes profiles and on their detection with the instrument. Such an intrinsic model dependence makes it necessary to formulate specific means that include the physics in a properly quantitative way. The core of this physics lies in the radiative transfer equation (RTE), where the properties of the atmosphere are assumed to be known while the unknowns are the four Stokes profiles. The solution of the (differential) RTE is known as the direct or forward problem. From an observational point of view, the problem is rather the opposite: the data are made up of the observed Stokes profiles and the unknowns are the solar physical quantities. Inverting the RTE is therefore mandatory. Indeed, the formal solution of this equation can be considered an integral equation. The solution of such an integral equation is called the inverse problem. Inversion techniques are automated codes aimed at solving the inverse problem. The foundations of inversion techniques are critically revisited with an emphasis on making explicit the many assumptions underlying each of them.