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We characterize and control the harmonic emission in the spectral and spatial domains in order to define in which conditions the harmonic radiation can be a high-quality seed for soft x-ray and x-ray free-electron lasers. The length of the gas cell, where harmonics are generated, was optimized and the energy per pulse was determined in absolute value with a calibrated x-ray photodiode. The beam spatial profile was measured and, in some conditions, a very collimated beam with a half-angle divergence below 1 mrad could be obtained. We also show that increasing the intensity of the fundamental laser field leads to a considerable broadening of the bandwidth of the harmonic radiation, allowing us to cover a large spectral range. This effect is due to fundamental reshaping leading to an efficient phase matching of both short- and long-trajectory contributions. © 2009 The American Physical Society.

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Physical Review A - Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics