Abstract

High-energy femtosecond laser pulses propagating in the atmosphere undergo self-focusing resulting in the appearance of the phenomenon of filamentation. We observed an extra-attenuation of such (terawatt) femtosecond laser pulses propagating in the atmosphere when compared with long pulses (200 ps) with the same energy. This is because, in contrast to the linear propagation of the long pulse, the input femtosecond laser pulse is attenuated owing to either absorption through multiphoton ionization/tunnel ionization or to scattering on the laser-induced plasma; self-phase-modulation and self-steepening further convert partially the energy initially contained in the fundamental bandwidth into the broad side bands of the laser, becoming eventually a white-light laser pulse (supercontinuum). The experimental data allow us to extract an effective extra-attenuation coefficient for an exponential decay of the input pulse energy with the propagation distance. Such a coefficient allows us to estimate an upper bound of the filament length under the experimental conditions used. More generally, our observation leads to a new technique to remotely detect light filaments in the atmosphere.

© 2005 Optical Society of America

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