Postprint version. Published in Physical Review Letters, Volume 79, Issue 11, September 15, 1997, pages 2018-2021. http://dx.doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevLett.79.2018. Copyright © 1997 The American Physical Society.
NOTE: At the time of publication, the author Thomas Bensky was not yet affiliated with Cal Poly.
We report the first observation of ionization of Rydberg atoms by subpicosecond, circularly polarized THz radiation. The field amplitude in these pulses is non-negligible for only one-quarter of an optical cycle. The experiment is performed in the short-pulse regime, where the duration of the ionizing pulse is shorter than the classical Kepler period of the Rydberg electron. We find that the ionization probability for these atoms is remarkably insensitive to the time-varying polarization of the THz field.