Polarization of the Sun's continuous spectrum
Institute of Astronomy, ETH Zentrum, 8092 Zurich, Switzerland e-mail: email@example.com
2 Faculty of Mathematics & Science, University of Zurich, 8057 Zurich, Switzerland
Accepted: 9 September 2004
The Sun's spectrum is linearly polarized by coherent scattering processes. Here we develop the theory for the formation of the polarized continuum, identify the relevant physical mechanisms, and clarify their relative roles. The polarized photons are produced by scattering at neutral hydrogen in its ground state (Lyman scattering), and to a smaller degree by scattering at free electrons (Thomson scattering). The polarized photons are diluted by the unpolarized photons from the H- opacity and radiative absorption from the Balmer bound-bound and bound-free transitions. Due to pressure broadening of the Balmer lines from the statistical Stark effect the polarized Balmer jump is shifted from the series limit to substantially longer wavelengths. In the second part of the paper the Atlas of the Second Solar Spectrum that covers 3161-6995 Å for disk position (where μ is the cosine of the heliocentric angle) is used to extract the empirical values of the continuum polarization with the help of a model for the behavior of the depolarizing lines. The empirically determined continuum polarization lies systematically lower than the values that have been predicted for Å from radiative-transfer modelling. The Balmer jump is found to be shifted as expected from pressure-broadening theory. Through scaling of the relative center-to-limb variations obtained from radiative-transfer theory with the empirically determined values (valid for ) we finally obtain the semi-empirical function that describes the variation of the continuum polarization with both wavelength and disk position μ. The empirically determined continuum polarization can be used to constrain model atmospheres as well as to fix the zero point of the polarization scale in observations of the scattering polarization and the Hanle effect.
Key words: polarization / scattering / Sun: photosphere / atomic processes / techniques: polarimetric / radiation mechanisms: general
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