Recent experiments with 100 terawatt-class, sub-50 femtosecond laser pulses show that electrons self-injected into a laser-driven electron density bubble can be accelerated above 0.5 gigaelectronvolt energy in a sub-centimetre length rarefied plasma. To reach this energy range, electrons must ultimately outrun the bubble and exit the accelerating phase; this, however, does not ensure high beam quality. Wake excitation increases the laser pulse bandwidth by red-shifting its head, keeping the tail unshifted. Anomalous group velocity dispersion of radiation in plasma slows down the red-shifted head, compressing the pulse into a few-cycle-long piston of relativistic intensity. Pulse transformation into a piston causes continuous expansion of the bubble, trapping copious numbers of unwanted electrons (dark current) and producing a poorly collimated, polychromatic energy tail, completely dominating the electron spectrum at the dephasing limit. The process of piston formation can be mitigated by using a broad-bandwidth (corresponding to a few-cycle transform-limited duration), negatively chirped pulse. Initial blue-shift of the pulse leading edge compensates for the nonlinear frequency red-shift and delays the piston formation, thus significantly suppressing the dark current, making the leading quasi-monoenergetic bunch the dominant feature of the electron spectrum near dephasing. This method of dark current control may be feasible for future experiments with ultrahigh-bandwidth, multi-joule laser pulses.
- Laser wakefield acceleration,
- blowout regime,
- electron self-injection,
- optical shock,
- particle-in-cell simulations