The current filamentation instability is a key phenomenon underpinning various processes in astrophysics, laboratory laser-plasma, and beam-plasma experiments. Here we show that the ultrafast dynamics of this instability can be explored in the context of relativistic laser-solid interactions through deflectometry by low-emittance, highly relativistic electron bunches from a laser wakefield accelerator. We present experimental measurements of the femtosecond timescale generation of strong magnetic-field fluctuations, with a measured line-integrated B field of 2.70 ± 0.39 kT μm. Three-dimensional, fully relativistic particle-in-cell simulations demonstrate that such fluctuations originate from the current filamentation instability arising at submicron scales around the irradiated target surface, and that they grow to amplitudes strong enough to broaden the angular distribution of the probe electron bunch a few tens of femtoseconds after the laser pulse maximum. Our results open a branch of physics experiments investigating the femtosecond dynamics of laser-driven plasma instabilities by means of synchronized, wakefield-accelerated electron beams.
- filamentation instability
- ultrafast magnetic-field generation
- particle-in-cell simulations