Prospects of detecting nonthermal protons in solar flares via lyman line spectroscopy: revisiting the Orrall–Zirker effect

Graham S. Kerr*, Joel C. Allred, Adam F. Kowalski, Ryan O. Milligan, Hugh S. Hudson, Natalia Zambrana Prado, Therese A. Kucera, Jeffrey W. Brosius

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
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Solar flares are efficient particle accelerators, with a substantial fraction of the energy released manifesting as nonthermal particles. While the role that nonthermal electrons play in transporting flare energy is well studied, the properties and importance of nonthermal protons are rather less well understood. This is in large part due to the paucity of diagnostics, particularly at the lower-energy (deka-keV) range of nonthermal proton distributions in flares. One means to identify the presence of deka-keV protons is by an effect originally described by Orrall & Zirker. In the Orrall–Zirker effect, nonthermal protons interact with ambient neutral hydrogen, and via charge exchange produce a population of energetic neutral atoms (ENAs) in the chromosphere. These ENAs subsequently produce an extremely redshifted photon in the red wings of hydrogen spectral lines. We revisit predictions of the strength of this effect using modern interaction cross sections, and numerical models capable of self-consistently simulating the flaring nonequilibrium ionization stratification, and the nonthermal proton distribution (and, crucially, their feedback on each other). We synthesize both the thermal and nonthermal emission from Ly α and Ly β, the most promising lines that may exhibit a detectable signal. These new predictions are weaker and more transient than prior estimates, but the effects should be detectable in fortuitous circumstances. We degrade the Ly β emission to the resolution of the Spectral Imaging of the Coronal Environment (SPICE) instrument on board Solar Orbiter, demonstrating that though likely difficult, it should be possible to detect the presence of nonthermal protons in flares observed by SPICE.
Original languageEnglish
Article number118
JournalThe Astrophysical Journal
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 22 Mar 2023


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  • The Sun and the Heliosphere


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