Probing ultrafast laser plasma processes inside solids with resonant small-angle X-ray scattering
in: Physical Review Research (2021)
Extreme states of matter exist throughout the universe, e.g., inside planetary cores, stars, or astrophysical jets. Such conditions can be generated in the laboratory in the interaction of powerful lasers with solids. Yet, the measurement of the subsequent plasma dynamics with regard to density, temperature, and ionization is a major experimental challenge. However, ultrashort x-ray pulses provided by x-ray free electron lasers (XFELs) allow for dedicated studies, which are highly relevant to study laboratory astrophysics, laser-fusion research, or laserplasma-based particle acceleration. Here we report on experiments that employ a novel ultrafast method, which allows us to simultaneously access temperature, ionization state, and nanometer scale expansion dynamics in high-intensity, laser-driven, solid-density plasmas with a single x-ray detector. Using this method, we gain access to the expansion dynamics of a buried layer in compound samples, and we measure opacity changes arising from bound-bound resonance transitions in highly ionized copper. The presence of highly ionized copper leads to a temperature estimate of at least 2 million Kelvin already after the first 100 fs following the high-intensity laser irradiation. More specifically, we make use of asymmetries in small-angle x-ray scattering (SAXS) patterns, which arise from different spatial distributions of absorption and scattering cross sections in nanostructured grating samples when we tune an XFEL to atomic resonant energies of copper. Thereby, changes in asymmetry can be connected with the evolution of the plasma expansion and ionization dynamics. The potential of XFELbased resonant SAXS to obtain three-dimensional ultrafast, nanoscopic information on density and opacity may offer a unique path for the characterization of dynamic processes in high energy density plasmas.