Virtual Resonant States in Two-Photon Decay Processes: Lower-Order Terms, Subtractions, and Physical Interpretations

Ulrich D. Jentschura, Missouri University of Science and Technology

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We investigate the two-photon decay rate of a highly excited atomic state which can decay to bound states of lower energy via cascade processes. We show that a naïve treatment of the process, based on the introduction of phenomenological decay rates for the intermediate, resonant states, leads to lower-order terms which need to be subtracted in order to obtain the coherent two-photon correction to the decay rate. The sum of the lower-order terms is exactly equal to the one-photon decay rate of the initial state, provided the naïve two-photon decay rates are summed over all available two-photon channels. A quantum electrodynamics treatment of the problem leads to an “automatic” subtraction of the lower-order terms.