We report on the static and dynamic behavior of the intensity and polarization of the light transmitted by a Fabry–Perot cavity filled with sodium vapor without a buffer gas. The light beam is resonant with the D1 transition, and the behavior can be traced back to the simultaneous presence of Zeeman pumping and hyperfine pumping in the sodium ground state, combined with velocity-selective hole-burning effects. Together with optical bistability, tristability, and pitchfork bifurcation, the system displays intrinsic oscillations in the absence of a magnetic field. We discuss the features of these phenomena, particularly the appearance of Hopf bifurcations, and the ways they are affected by the experimental control parameters. We also report evidence of period doubling and of more-complex dynamics in the presence of a magnetic field.
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