Vacuum refractive indices and helicity flip in strong-field QED
Journal article, 2014
Vacuum birefringence is governed by the amplitude for a photon to flip helicity or polarization state in an external field. Here, we calculate the flip and nonflip amplitudes in arbitrary plane wave backgrounds, along with the induced spacetime-dependent refractive indices of the vacuum. We compare the behavior of the amplitudes in the low energy and high energy regimes, and analyze the impact of pulse shape and energy. We also provide the first lightfront-QED derivation of the coefficients in the Heisenberg-Euler effective action.