Abstract

Thermal blooming of a laser beam propagating in a gas-filled tube is investigated both analytically and experimentally. A self-consistent formulation taking into account heating of the gas and the resultant laser beam spreading (including diffraction) is presented. The heat equation is used to determine the temperature variation while the paraxial wave equation is solved in the eikonal approximation to determine the temporal and spatial variation of the Gaussian laser spot radius, Gouy phase (longitudinal phase delay), and wavefront curvature. The analysis is benchmarked against a thermal blooming experiment in the literature using a CO2 laser beam propagating in a tube filled with air and propane. New experimental results are presented in which a CW fiber laser (1 μm) propagates in a tube filled with nitrogen and water vapor. By matching laboratory and theoretical results, the absorption coefficient of water vapor is found to agree with calculations using MODTRAN (the MODerate-resolution atmospheric TRANsmission molecular absorption database) and HITRAN (the HIgh-resolution atmospheric TRANsmission molecular absorption database).

© 2014 Optical Society of America

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