Diffraction of intense laser pulses in plasmas can be prevented by relativistic and/or density channel guiding. Optically guided laser pulses can undergo severe selfmodulation1 due to interaction with a plasma wave, generated by the pulse front and/or by a forward Raman instability. The plasma wave produces periodic regions of enhanced focusing and diffraction, which leads to radial transport of the laser pulse energy. Strong self-modulation occurs when the pulse power is above the guiding threshold and when the pulse length is long compared to a plasma wavelength, λp This can result in a fully modulated (at λp) laser pulse and a resonantly excited, large amplitude plasma wave wakefield. Self-modulation is examined using an envelope equation for the evolution of the laser pulse radius and 2D-axisymmetric Maxwell-fluid simulations. Self-modulation can serve as the basis for a laser wakefield accelerator, in which enhanced electron acceleration is achieved2 (>100 GeV/m, three orders of magnitude beyond conventional technology). Examples of laser wakefield accelerators3 will be given and proof-of-principle experiments will be discussed.

© 1994 Optical Society of America

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