Ultrashort measurement-time resolution is traditionally obtained in pump–probe experiments, for which two ultrashort light pulses are required; the time resolution is then determined by the pulse duration. But although pulses of subfemtosecond duration are available, so far the energy of these pulses is too low to fully implement the traditional pump–probe technique. Here, we demonstrate 'attosecond angular streaking', an alternative approach to achieving attosecond time resolution. The method uses the rotating electric-field vector of an intense circularly polarized pulse to deflect photo-ionized electrons in the radial spatial direction; the instant of ionization is then mapped to the final angle of the momentum vector in the polarization plane. We resolved subcycle dynamics in tunnelling ionization by the streaking field alone and demonstrate a temporal localization accuracy of 24 as r.m.s. and an estimated resolution of approximately 200 as. The demonstrated accuracy should enable the study of one of the fundamental aspects of quantum physics: the process of tunnelling of an electron through an energetically forbidden region.
Published online: 30 May 2008 | doi:10.1038/nphys982