Recombination Coefficients

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<latex> \documentclass[11pt]{article} \def\inv#1Template:1 \over \def\ddtTemplate:D \over dt \def\mean#1{\left\langle #1\right\rangle} \def\sigot{\sigma_{12}} \def\sigto{\sigma_{21}} \def\eval#1{\big|_{#1}} \def\tr{\nabla} \def\dce{\vec\tr\times\vec E} \def\dcb{\vec\tr\times\vec B} \def\wz{\omega_0} \def\ef{\vec E} \def\ato{{A_{21}}} \def\bto{{B_{21}}} \def\bot{{B_{12}}} \def\bfieldTemplate:\vec B \def\apTemplate:A^\prime \def\xp{{x^{\prime}}} \def\yp{{y^{\prime}}} \def\zp{{z^{\prime}}} \def\tp{{t^{\prime}}} \def\upxTemplate:U x^\prime \def\upyTemplate:U y^\prime \def\e#1{\cdot10^{#1}} \def\qot{q_{12}} \def\qto{q_{21}} \def\ehvkt{e^{-h\nu_{21}\over2kT}} \def\hf{\frac12} \usepackage{fullpage} \usepackage{amsmath} \usepackage{eufrak} \begin{document}

\subsection*{Derivation}

\def\sigbf{\sigma_{bf}} \def\alphaNL{\alpha_{n,l}} \def\sigfb{\sigma_{fb}}

The recombination coefficient $\alphaNL$ is analogous to $q_{12}$, the collisional rate coefficient, and is derived in a similar way. The rate of recombinations per unit volume is:

$${\textrm{\#\ of\ recombinations}\over \textrm{volume} \cdot \textrm{time} }= n_+n_e\mean{\sigfb v} = n_+n_e\int_0^{\infty}\sigfb(v)v f(v)dv = n_+n_e \alphaNL$$ Therefore the recombination coefficient for recombination to level \emph{n, l} (\emph{n} is the principal quantum number and \emph{l} is the orbital quantum number) is defined below where $f(v)$, the distribution of velocities, is a Maxwellian. $$\alphaNL \equiv \int_0^{\infty}\sigfb(v)v f(v)dv = 4\pi \int_0^{\infty}\sigfb(v) \left(\frac{m}{ 2 \pi kT} \right)^{3/2} v^3 \exp\left(-\frac{mv^2}{2kT}\right) dv$$

To find how $\alphaNL$ scales with temperature, it is necessary to track all the factors of $\textrm{v}$ and $T$ in the expression above. Since recombination involves positively charged ions and electrons, $\sigfb$ accounts for Coulomb Focusing and scales as $\textrm{v}^{-2}$. It follows that $\alphaNL \propto T^{-1/2}$. For Hydrogen-like ions with nuclear charge $Z$, $\alphaNL \propto Z \cdot T^{-1/2}$.

A Hydrogen atom can recombine directly into the ground state or first to an excited state before the electron cascades down to the ground state. To account for all the ways to recombine to the ground state ($n=1$, $l=0$ or $1s$ state), the total recombination coefficient $\alpha_A$ with units $\textrm{cm}^3 \textrm{s}^{-1}$ is $$ \alpha_A = \sum_{n=1} \sum_{l=0}^{n-1} \alphaNL$$ As will be discussed below, however, sometimes we want to omit free-to-ground transitions or recombinations that are direct into the ground state. For these cases we use $\alpha_B$: $$ \alpha_B = \sum_{n=2} \sum_{l=0}^{n-1} \alphaNL$$

\subsection*{Back of the Envelope Approximation and True Values} For Hydrogen, the rate of recombination per unit volume is approximately equal to the probability of finding an electron and proton near one another in 3-dimensional space multiplied by the rate of an electron decaying from a free to a bound state. For an electron and proton to be about a few Bohr radii apart, their proximity traces out a volume $\sim 10^{-23} \textrm{cm}^3$. The atomic decay rate is $\sim 10^9 \textrm{s}^{-1}$. Let's include an extra order of magnitude because of coulomb focusing. Multiplying these together, we would predict that $\alpha_A \sim 10^{-13} \textrm{cm}^3 \textrm{s}^{-1}$ which is quite close to Hydrogen's recombination coefficients at $T=10^4 \textrm{K}$, a typical nebula temperature:

$$\alpha_A=4\e{-13}{cm^3\over s}$$ $$\alpha_B=2\e{-13}{cm^3\over s}$$

\subsection*{Timescales} For a typical nebula at $T=10^4 \textrm{K}$, the recombination time is: $$t_{rec} \approx {1 \over n_e * \alpha_A} \approx 3 \times 10^{12} n_e^{-1} \textrm{sec} \approx 10^{5} n_e^{-1} \textrm{yrs} $$

The recombination time is longer than the timescales of the other relevant processes, namely photoionization and electron-electron scattering/collisions. This is good verification that it was appropriate to use a Maxwellian distribution of velocities in the derivation above. After being photoionized, the electrons thermalize so their velocities settle into a Maxwellian on timescales shorter than those associated with recombination or ionization. (The $e^--e^-$ cross-section is larger than the photoionization cross-section by several orders of magnitude.)

\subsection*{Case A and B Recombination} For optically thin nebulae, $\alpha_A$ is appropriate and we include recombinations that go directly from free to the ground bound state. But when a nebula is optically thick, no ionizing photons escape the nebula--each photoionizing photon released from a free-to-ground recombination immediately photoionizes a neutral Hydrogen atom nearby, having no impact on the net recombination.