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Producing Attosecond Pulses -- A Wave Perspective

First some background: We often think of electrons (left image) moving around an ion like a planet (middle image) moving about the sun. 

In reality electrons are more complex because we can not see them like planets. All we can see is a blur like that shown in the right figure. Like any other wave, the electron cannot be pinned down, but different from most waves that we are familiar with, the wave is trapped by the ion. The right figure shows the best "image" possible of the electron around a hydrogen atom. 

How the pulses are made: The light wave of a laser pulse tugs on the electron, splitting the electron wave in two. One part moves away from the atom, the other part remains trapped on the ion. 

When the waves overlap, they add or subtract. Here are four snap-shots of the region near the ion where the waves overlap. You will see the electron appears to wiggle back and forth across the oribtal.

All light is produced by accelerating (or oscillating) electrons. Since the oscillation is very fast, the light has very short wavelength. If the laser pulse is short enough, the interference is complete in a fraction of a femtosecond. In other words, the collision produces an attosecond pulse.

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