Quantum electrodynamics of accelerated atoms in free space and in cavities
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We consider a gedanken experiment with a beam of atoms in their ground state that are accelerated through a single-mode cavity. We show that taking into account of the "counterrotating" terms in the interaction Hamiltonian leads to the excitation of an atom with simultaneous emission of a photon into a field mode. In free space, when the atom-field interaction is turning on/off adiabatically, the only nonadiabatic effect that causes the excitation is the time-dependent Doppler shift. The resulting ratio of emission and absorption probabilities is exponentially small and is described by the Unruh factor. In the opposite case of rapid turn on of the interaction on the cavity boundaries the above ratio is much greater and radiation is produced with an intensity which can exceed the intensity of radiation in free space by many orders of magnitude. In both cases real photons are produced. The cavity field at steady state has a thermal density matrix. However, under some conditions laser gain is possible. We present a detailed discussion of how the acceleration of atoms affects the generated cavity field in different situations. We identify a common physical mechanism behind the Unruh effect and similar QED radiation processes.