Abstract:
To model the second solar spectrum (the linearly polarized spectrum of the Sun that is due to coherent scattering processes), one needs to solve the polarized radiative transfer (RT) equation. For strong resonance lines, partial frequency redistribution (PRD) effects must be accounted for, which make the problem computationally demanding. The "last scattering approximation" (LSA) is a concept that has been introduced to make this highly complex problem more tractable. An earlier application of a simple LSA version could successfully model the wings of the strong Ca I 4227 Å resonance line in Stokes Q/I (fractional linear polarization), but completely failed to reproduce the observed Q/I peak in the line core. Since the magnetic field signatures from the Hanle effect only occur in the line core, we need to generalize the existing LSA approach if it is to be useful for the diagnostics of chromospheric and turbulent magnetic fields. In this paper, we explore three different approximation levels for LSA and compare each of them with the benchmark represented by the solution of the full polarized RT, including PRD effects. The simplest approximation level is LSA-1, which uses the observed center-to-limb variation of the intensity profile to obtain the anisotropy of the radiation field at the surface, without solving any transfer equation. In contrast, the next two approximation levels use the solution of the unpolarized transfer equation to derive the anisotropy of the incident radiation field and use it as an input. In the case of LSA-2, the anisotropy at level τλ = μ, the atmospheric level from which an observed photon is most likely to originate, is used. LSA-3, on the other hand, makes use of the full depth dependence of the radiation anisotropy. The Q/I formula for LSA-3 is obtained by keeping the first term in a series expansion of the Q-source function in powers of the mean number of scattering events. Computationally, LSA-1 is 21 times faster than LSA-2, which is 5 times faster than the more general LSA-3, which itself is 8 times faster than the polarized RT approach. A comparison of the calculated Q/I spectra with the RT benchmark shows excellent agreement for LSA-3, including good modeling of the Q/I core region with its PRD effects. In contrast, both LSA-1 and LSA-2 fail to model the core region. The RT and LSA-3 approaches are then applied to model the recently observed Q/I profile of the Ca I 4227 Å line in quiet regions of the Sun. Apart from a global scale factor both give a very good fit to the Q/I spectra for all the wavelengths, including the core peak and blend line depolarizations. We conclude that LSA-3 is an excellent substitute for the full polarized RT and can be used to interpret the second solar spectrum, including the Hanle effect with PRD. It also allows the techniques developed for unpolarized three-dimensional RT to be applied to the modeling of the second solar spectrum.