A common challenge for pump-probe studies of structural dynamics at X-ray freeelectron lasers (XFELs) is the determination of time zero (T0)-the time an optical pulse (e.g., an optical laser) arrives coincidently with the probe pulse (e.g., a XFEL pulse) at the sample position. In some cases, T0 might be extracted from the structural dynamics of the sample's observed response itself, but generally, an independent robust method is required or would be superior to the inferred determination of T0. In this paper, we present how the structural dynamics in ultrafast melting of bismuth can be exploited for a quickly performed, reliable and accurate determination of T0 with a precision below 20 fs and an overall experimental accuracy of 50 fs to 150 fs (estimated). Our approach is potentially useful and applicable for fixed-target XFEL experiments, such as serial femtosecond crystallography, utilizing an optical pump pulse in the ultraviolet to near infrared spectral range and a pixelated 2D photon detector for recording crystallographic diffraction patterns in transmission geometry. In comparison to many other suitable approaches, our method is fairly independent of the pumping wavelength (UV-IR) as well as of the X-ray energy and offers a favorable signal contrast. The technique is exploitable not only for the determination of temporal characteristics of the experiment at the interaction point but also for investigating important conditions affecting experimental control such as spatial overlap and beam spot sizes.
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