Ultrabright x-rays capture the sequence of material damage accumulation during high strain rate catastrophic failure.
Understanding high-velocity impact, and the subsequent high strain rate material deformation and potential catastrophic failure, is of critical importance across a range of scientific and engineering disciplines that include astrophysics, materials science, and aerospace engineering. The deformation and failure mechanisms are not thoroughly understood, given the challenges of experimentally quantifying material evolution at extremely short time scales. Here, copper foils are rapidly strained via picosecond laser ablation and probed in situ with femtosecond x-ray free electron (XFEL) pulses. Small-angle x-ray scattering (SAXS) monitors the void distribution evolution, while wide-angle scattering (WAXS) simultaneously determines the strain evolution. The ability to quantifiably characterize the nanoscale during high strain rate failure with ultrafast SAXS, complementing WAXS, represents a broadening in the range of science that can be performed with XFEL. It is shown that ultimate failure occurs via void nucleation, growth, and coalescence, and the data agree well with molecular dynamics simulations.