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# Saha Equation...derived by megnad saha

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09/03/2013

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Supplement to Ch. 6 of
Astrophysics Processes
Saha Equation
Supplement to Chapter 4 of
Astrophysics Processes (AP)
by Hale Bradt (Camb. U. Press 2008)
www.cambridge.org/us/catalogue/catalogue.asp?isbn=9780521846561)
What we learn in this supplement
We introduce
Einstein’s transition coefficients
and find their ratios bysetting the transitions from one state of an atom to be in balance with thereverse transitions between the same two states (“
detailed balance
”) in
thermal equilibrium
. For this, we use the Planck function and theBoltzmann formula. We then use these ratios of coefficients, generalizedto include the presence of electrons, to obtain the
Saha equation
, whichgives the relative proportions of atoms of a certain species that are in twodifferent
states of ionization
, again in thermal equilibrium. To accomplishthis, we again apply detailed balance and invoke the Maxwell-Boltzmanndistribution for the electrons and the Planck function for the radiationfield. As examples, the Saha equation is applied to the solar photosphereand to the decoupling of radiation in the early universe.The Saha equation may be derived directly from statistical arguments(e.g., L. H. Aller,
Astrophysics, The Atmospheres of the Sun and Stars
,second edit., Ronald Press, 1963). This derivation is not presented here.
1Introduction12 Basic concepts2
Pl,anck function • Boltzmann formula • Einstein coefficients
3 Saha equation5
Derivation • Discussion
1Introduction
The Saha equation (4.15 of AP) gives the relative number of atoms in two ionizationstates as a function of electron density
n
e
and temperature
.
n
r
+1
n
e
n
r

=
G
r
+1
g
e
G
r

2
m
e
kT
3/2
h
3

exp

–


r
kT
(1)Here
n
r

and
n
r+
1
are the number densities of atoms in the ionization state
r
(e.g., with 4

Supplement to Ch. 6 of
Astrophysics Processes

and the ionization state
r
+1 (5 electrons missing) of a given element.Also,
n
e
is the electron number density,
G
r
and
G
r
+1
are the partition functions (definedbelow) of the two states,
g
e
= 2 is the statistical weight of the electron,
m
e
is the electronmass, and

r
is

the ionization potential from state
r
to
r
+1. For hydrogen, under mostastrophysical conditions,
G
r

2 and
G
r
+1

1.We approach the Saha equation through the Einstein transition probabilities whilemaking use of the Planck function, the Boltzmann formula, and the Maxwell-Boltzmanndistribution. This approach is intended to introduce the reader to the Einstein coefficientsand the physical considerations that can lead to the Saha equation. It is not a derivationfrom first principles of statistical physics. For that, see for example, L. H. Aller,
Astrophysics, The Atmospheres of the Sun and Stars
, second edit., Ronald Press, 1963).
2Basic concepts
Here, we outline several concepts and expressions that are needed in ourderivation of the Saha equation.
Planck function
The Planck blackbody function may be derived with Bose-Einstein statistics. Thenumber of ways to achieve possible distributions of photon energy under these statisticsis maximized with the aid of Lagrange multipliers. A thermodynamic argument relatesthe temperature to one of the multiplier constants. The result for the energy specificintensity
I
(

,T
) is (6.6 of AP):
I

,

=

2
h

3
c
2

1e
h

/
kT

–

1

(Planck function;W m
–2
Hz
–1
sr
–1
)(2)The energy density
u
(W m
–3
Hz
–1
) is obtained simply my multiplying (2) by 4
/
c
,
u

,

=

8
h

3
c
3

1e
h

/
k

–

1

(Energy density;W m
–3
Hz
–1
)(3)In thermal equilibrium, the photon energy distribution is described by these expressions.
Boltzmann formula
An atom with multiple energy states in thermal equilibrium with a radiation fielddescribed by (3) will find itself in one or another of these energy states. Frequenttransitions to and from other states will occur as photons interact with the atoms.Statistical arguments, similar to those used to derive the Planck Function (as justdescribed), give the relative number densities of atoms in the several excited states inthermal equilibrium (Fig. 1),

Supplement to Ch. 6 of
Astrophysics Processes
n
i
n
j

=
g
i
g
j

exp
h

i
kT
(Boltzmann formula)(4)where
is the temperture,
g
i
and
g
j
are the statistical weights of the two states shown inFig. 1, and
h

ij
is the energy between them.
g
j
g
i

i

j
Ground state
Figure 1. Excitation energy states of an atom. Transitions between the
i
th and
j
th statesare shown. The energy levels indicate the energies required to excite the state of interestrelative to the ground state.
If the two levels have angular momenta quantum numbers
J
i
and
J
j
the ratio of statistical weights is
g
i
g
j

=

2
J
i

+12
J
j

+1

(5)For example the second energy level of the hydrogen has
p
states with orbital angularmom
J = 1
and hence a statistical weight of 3. These states can accommodate threeelectrons of a given spin and another three of the opposite spin, for a total of sixelectrons.A photon emitted during the deexcitation from state
i
to
j
has energy
h

i

=


i

–


j
(6)This may occur via
or via
induced deexcitation
wherein a passing photon of energy
h
ij
induces the downward transition with theemission of another photon of the same energy.The energy of the photon that can excite

the atom to the upper state from the lower isalso
h
ij
. This is called
photoexcitation.
The atom can be de-excited by a photon(
timulated emission).
In this case, a passing photon of energy
h

ij
can induce a transitionwith the emission of another photon of the same energy.What fraction of the atoms are in a given excited state? Restate the relative numbers(4) with aid of (6),
n
i
n
j

=
g
i

e
–

i
/
k
g
j

e
–

j
/
k

(7)