A Key Physical Mechanism for Understanding the Enigmatic Linear Polarization of the Solar Ba II and Na I D1 Lines

Belluzzi, L.; Trujilo-Bueno, J.
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The Astrophysical Journal Letters, Volume 774, Issue 2, article id. L28, 5 pp. (2013).

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The linearly polarized spectrum of the solar limb radiation produced by scattering processes is of great diagnostic potential for exploring the magnetism of the solar atmosphere. This spectrum shows an impressive richness of spectral details and enigmatic Q/I signals, whose physical origin must be clearly understood before they can be exploited for diagnostic purposes. The most enduring enigma is represented by the polarization signals observed in the D1 resonance lines of Na I (5896 Å) and Ba II (4934 Å), which were expected to be intrinsically unpolarizable. The totality of sodium and 18% of barium have hyperfine structure (HFS), and it has been argued that the only way to produce a scattering polarization signal in such lines is through the presence of a substantial amount of atomic polarization in their lower HFS levels. The strong sensitivity of these long-lived levels to depolarizing mechanisms led to the paradoxical conclusion that the observed D1-line polarization is incompatible with the presence in the lower solar chromosphere of inclined magnetic fields sensibly stronger than 0.01 G. Here we show that by properly taking into account the fact that the solar D1-line radiation has a non-negligible spectral structure over the short frequency interval spanned by the HFS transitions, it is possible to produce scattering polarization signals in the D1 lines of Na I and Ba II without the need of ground-level polarization. The resulting linear polarization is not so easily destroyed by elastic collisions and/or magnetic fields.
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