Europhys. Lett.
Volume 70, Number 2, April 2005
Page(s) 190 - 196
Section Atomic and molecular physics
Published online 16 March 2005
Europhys. Lett., 70 (2), pp. 190-196 (2005)
DOI: 10.1209/epl/i2005-10004-8

Rotationally induced Penning ionization of ultracold photoassociated helium dimers

J. Léonard1, A. P. Mosk1, M. Walhout1, M. Leduc1, M. van Rijnbach2, D. Nehari2 and P. van der Straten2

1  Ecole Normale Supérieure and Collège de France, Laboratoire Kastler Brossel 24 rue Lhomond, 75231 Paris Cedex 05, France
2  Debye Institute, Atom Optics and Ultrafast Dynamics, Utrecht University P.O. Box 80000, 3508 TA Utrecht, The Netherlands

received 19 January 2005; accepted in final form 17 February 2005
published online 16 March 2005

We have studied photoassociation of metastable 23S1 helium atoms near the 23S1-23P2 asymptote by both ion detection in a magneto-optical trap and trap-loss measurements in a magnetic trap. A detailed comparison between the results of the two experiments gives insight into the mechanism of the Penning ionization process. We have identified four series of resonances corresponding to vibrational molecular levels belonging to different rotational states in two potentials. The corresponding spin states become quasi-purely quintet at small interatomic distance, and Penning ionization is inhibited by spin conservation rules. Only a weak rotational coupling is responsible for the contamination by singlet spin states leading to a detectable ion signal. However, for one of these series, Bose statistics does not enable the rotational coupling and the series detected through trap-loss does not give rise to sufficient ionization for detection.

33.20.-t - Molecular spectra.
34.50.Gb - Electronic excitation and ionization of molecules; intermediate molecular states (including lifetimes, state mixing, etc.).
34.20.Cf - Interatomic potentials and forces.

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