The optical damage threshold of indentation-induced flaws on fused silica surfaces was explored. Mechanical flaws were characterized by laser damage testing, as well as by optical, secondary electron, and photoluminescence microscopy. Localized polishing, chemical leaching, and the control of indentation morphology were used to isolate the structural features that limit optical damage. A thin defect layer on fracture surfaces, including those smaller than the wavelength of visible light, was found to be the dominant source of laser damage initiation during illumination with , laser pulses. Little evidence was found that either displaced or densified material or fluence intensification plays a significant role in optical damage at fluences . Elimination of the defect layer was shown to increase the overall damage performance of fused silica optics.
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