We report the first interferometric observations of the dynamics of electron–ion cavitation of relativistically self-focused intense 4 TW, 400 fs laser pulse in a He gas jet. The electron density in a channel 1 mm long and 30 mm in diameter drops by a factor of approximately 10 from the maximum value of ~8x1019 cm23. A high radial velocity of the plasma expansion, ~3.8x108 cm/s, corresponding to an ion energy of about 300 keV, is observed. The total energy of fast ions is estimated to be 6% of the laser pulse energy. The high-velocity radial plasma expulsion is explained by a charge separation due to the strong ponderomotive force. This experiment demonstrates a new possibility for direct transmission of a significant portion of the energy of a laser pulse to ions.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/donald_umstadter/57/