The particle flux produced by an obliquely incident Nd Q-switched pulse (20 ns) on a Ta target has been analysed with regard to its angular distribution resolved for both its neutral and ion components. The laser intensity has been varied in the range between about 10^10 - 10^11 W cm-2, which is appropriate for many low-irradiance applications. It is observed that, at all emission angles and for the whole range of laser intensities, the number of neutral species clearly dominates the composition of the particles. At 1.3 x 10^10 W cm-2 the total number of emitted particles is 4 x 10^14, scaling as E_L^¾ with the laser energy. While for relatively low laser energies the angular distribution shows the usual smooth cos-behaviour, an additional strong directive emission cone, superimposed upon the cos-distribution, develops if the laser energy is enhanced. Both the strength and the width strongly depend on the laser intensity. While at lower intensities a fit by a cos^n function with n ~ 10 seems appropriate, n increases to 26 at an intensity of 10^11 W cm-2 . It can be assumed that secondary energy transfer processes that are not yet fully understood are responsible for this anomalous emission.
Ion energy spectra of a laser-produced Ta plasma have been investigated as a function of the flight distance from the focus. The laser (Nd:YAG, 20 ns, 210 mJ) is incident obliquely (45°) and focused to an intensity of about 10^11 W cm-2. The changes in the ion distributions have been analysed for the Ta+ to Ta6+ ions in an expansion range 64 - 220 cm. With increasing distance from the target, a weak but monotonic decrease is observed for the total number of ions, which is essentially due to the decrease in the number of the more highly charged species. For the Ta+ and Ta2+ ions the net changes approximately cancel. A more sophisticated picture of the recombination dynamics is obtained, however, if the changes within individual groups of ions expanding with different velocities are compared. Here, in the same spectrum, both increasing and decreasing ion numbers can be observed. This can be interpreted as direct evidence of recombination and its dependence on temperature, density and charge.