Indexed on: 01 Aug '19Published on: 17 Apr '19Published in: Reports on progress in physics. Physical Society (Great Britain)
There are currently intense efforts being directed towards extending the range and energy of long distance nonlinear pulse propagation in the atmosphere by moving to longer infrared wavelengths, with the purpose of mitigating the effects of turbulence. In addition, picosecond and longer pulse durations are being used to increase the pulse energy. While both of these tacks promise improvements in applications, such as remote sensing and directed energy, they open up fundamental issues regarding the standard model used to calculate the nonlinear optical properties of dilute gases. Amongst these issues is that for longer wavelengths and longer pulse durations, exponential growth of the laser-generated electron density, the so-called avalanche ionization, can limit the propagation range via nonlinear absorption and plasma defocusing. It is therefore important for the continued development of the field to assess the theory and role of avalanche ionization in gases for longer wavelengths. Here, after an overview of the standard model, we present a microscopically motivated approach for the analysis of avalanche ionization in gases that extends beyond the standard model and we contend is key for deepening our understanding of long distance propagation at long infrared wavelengths. Our new approach involves the mean electron kinetic energy, the plasma temperature, and the free electron density as dynamic variables. The rate of avalanche ionization is shown to depend on the full time history of the pulsed excitation, as opposed to the standard model in which the rate is proportional to the instantaneous intensity. Furthermore, the new approach has the added benefit that it is no more computationally intensive than the standard one. The resulting memory effects and some of their measurable physical consequences are demonstrated for the example of long-wavelength infrared avalanche ionization and long distance high-intensity pulse propagation in air. © 2019 IOP Publishing Ltd.