Monster waves in the optical experiment - the storm in the test tube

Random events in nature are often subject to a so-called normal distribution, which allows predicting the probability of extreme events reliably. Especially in meteorology, there are a number of processes in which extremely strong and destructive events occur more frequently than can be predicted from many years of observation of weaker events. Examples include unexpectedly strong storms or other extreme weather events, another the occurrence of so-called monster waves in the sea.

5 years ago qualitatively similar behavior was observed in the propagation of intense light pulses through a glass fiber, ie in a completely different physical system. Since the observation of extreme momentum energies in this system requires relatively little effort, this observation has initiated its own research area on "optical monster waves". In a work published by Physical Review Letters, researchers at the Max Born Institute present a new optical system in which monster waves occur. Unlike in all previous works, this phenomenon is caused by atmospheric turbulence in a gas cell, ie a kind of storm in the test tube and thus by a microscopic meteorological phenomenon. If a bundle of high-intensity parallel light beams (so-called filaments) is generated in such a cell, the turbulence can lead to the brief fusion of individual beams, which generates light flashes observable to the naked eye. A detailed analysis of the experimental data shows that the statistical distribution of these flashes of light is much more extreme than that of meteorological events. Sea waves are already considered monster waves when they exceed the significant wave height by a factor of two. In the optical system, on the other hand, even light flashes occur that exceed the characteristic intensity by a factor of 10, ie really rough optical weather.

Fig. 1 Successive snapshots of a measured optical monster wave. The intensity is shown as wave height. The event is spatially and temporally isolated. The wave emerges within a hundredth of a second without notice and disappears just as quickly.

Original publication

Spatiotemporal rogue events in optical multiple filamentation

S. Birkholz, E. T. J. Nibbering, C. Brée, S. Skupin, A. Demircan, G. Genty, G. Steinmeyer

Physical Review Letters 111 (2013) 243903/1-5