A device is described that allows detailed and sensitive examination of the precursors to both nanosecond and possibly picosecond laser pulses without damaging detectors. A one-to-one telescope, constructed with lenses with focal lengths 5.0 cm and which may be pressurized to 800-Torr argon gas, is used to demonstrate the operation. It is shown that breakdown in the gas, at times before the peak power of the pulses, absorbs the energy allowing only the early portion of the laser pulse to pass unattenuated. Energy loss is observed at argon pressures below the threshold for observation of nonlinear transmission (gas breakdown).
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