EDP Sciences
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Volume 384, Number 1, March II 2002
Page(s) 350 - 363
Section Physical and chemical processes
DOI http://dx.doi.org/10.1051/0004-6361:20020051

A&A 384, 350-363 (2002)
DOI: 10.1051/0004-6361:20020051

Lasers without inversion (LWI) in Space: A possible explanation for intense, narrow-band, emissions that dominate the visible and/or far-UV (FUV) spectra of certain astronomical objects

P. P. Sorokin and J. H. Glownia

IBM Research Division, PO Box 218, Yorktown Heights, NY 10598, USA

(Received 3 December 2001 / Accepted 20 December 2001)

The optical or far-UV (FUV) spectra of certain objects in Space are completely dominated by one or two spectrally narrow emission lines, strongly suggesting that laser action of some kind occurs in these objects. However, the electronic level structures of the atoms/ions producing these emissions preclude the possibility of maintaining population inversions on the electronic transitions involved. In lasers, gain is normally produced on an optical transition that is inverted, i.e. one that has more atoms maintained in the upper than in the lower state, so that stimulated emission can exceed stimulated absorption. However, as a result of discoveries made in quantum electronics over the past 30 years or so, one now knows that there are several ways to make stimulated emission occur on a transition that is not inverted, i.e. to realize a "laser without inversion (LWI)". This requires first making the atoms non-absorbing at the lasing frequency, i.e. setting up a condition of "electromagnetically induced transparency (EIT)". Some recently developed EIT techniques for three-level atoms are first reviewed. A simple model for a space LWI based upon a gas of two-level atoms is then proposed. In this model, transparency results from a form of EIT induced by the presence of an intense, monochromatic, continuous-wave, laser beam tuned to the frequency $\omega _{\rm o}$ of the two-level-atom transition. Amplification of light at this same frequency occurs via resonant stimulated hyper-Raman scattering (SHRS) and four-wave mixing (FWM), with pumping energy provided by continuum starlight spectrally overlapping the two outer absorption sidebands ("Mollow bands") induced by the presence of the beam at $\omega _{\rm o}$. Two specific examples of superintense line emission from Space are here considered. These are (a) the H( $\alpha$) emission line appearing as a dominant singularity in certain reddened, early-type stars, and (b) the powerful O VI (1032 Å, 1038 Å) emission doublet that dominates the FUV emission spectra of symbiotic stars such as RR Tel.

Key words: atomic processes -- radiation mechanisms: non-thermal -- stars: early type -- stars: individual: HD 44179 -- stars: individual: RR Tel -- ISM: lines and bands

Offprint request: P. P. Sorokin, sorokin@us.ibm.com

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