The long light filaments generated in air by powerful ultrashort laser pulses, previously attributed to self-channeling, were investigated by use of gigawatt pulses from a Ti:sapphire chirped-pulse-amplification laser system. A filament contained only a small fraction of the pulse energy and always ended at the diffraction length of the beam (), independently of the pulse energy. These features are explained by the moving-focus model, which is presented as an alternative to the self-channeling model. Computer simulations involving ionization of the air also support the moving-focus model.
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