When an atom or molecule is ionized by an x-ray, highly excited states can be created that then decay, or autoionize, by ejecting a second electron from the ion. We found that autoionization after soft x-ray photoionization of molecular oxygen follows a complex multistep process. By interrupting the autoionization process with a short laser pulse, we showed that autoionization cannot occur until the internuclear separation of the fragments is greater than approximately 30 angstroms. As the ion and excited neutral atom separated, we directly observed the transformation of electronically bound states of the molecular ion into Feshbach resonances of the neutral oxygen atom that are characterized by both positive and negative binding energies. States with negative binding energies have not previously been predicted or observed in neutral atoms.
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