The influence of albedo on the size of hard X-ray flare sources
SUPA, School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Glasgow,
Accepted: 20 October 2010
Context. Hard X-rays from solar flares are an important diagnostic of particle acceleration and transport in the solar atmosphere. However, any observed X-ray flux from on-disc sources is composed of direct emission plus Compton backscattered photons (albedo). This affects both the observed spectra and images and the physical quantities derived from them, such as the spatial and spectral distributions of accelerated electrons or characteristics of the solar atmosphere (e.g. density).
Aims. We propose a new indirect method to measure albedo and to infer the directivity of X-rays in imaging using RHESSI data. We describe this method and demonstrate its application to a compact disc event observed with RHESSI.
Methods. Visibility forward fitting is used to determine the size (second moment) of a disc event observed by RHESSI as a function of energy. Using a Monte Carlo simulation code of photon transport in the chromosphere, maps for different degrees of downward directivity and true source sizes are computed. The resulting sizes from the simulated maps are compared with the sizes from the observations to find limits on the true source size and the directivity.
Results. The observed full width half maximum of the source varies in size between 7.4 arcsec and 9.1 arcsec with the maximum between 30 and 40 keV. Such behaviour is expected in the presence of albedo and is found in the simulations. The uncertainties in the data are not small enough to make unambiguous statements about the true source size and the directivity simultaneously. However, a source size smaller than 6 arcsec is improbable for modest directivities, and the true source size is likely to be around 7 arcsec for small directivities.
Conclusions. While it is difficult to image the albedo patch directly, the effect of backscattered photons on the observed source size can be estimated. This is demonstrated here on observations for the first time. The increase in source size caused by albedo has to be accounted for when computing physical quantities that include the size as a parameter, such as flare energetics. At the same time, studying the albedo signature provides vital information about the directivity of X-rays and related electrons.
Key words: Sun: flares / Sun: X-rays, gamma-rays / acceleration of particles
© ESO, 2010