We have observed the lattice expansion before the onset of compression in an optical-laser-driven target, using diffraction of femtosecond X-ray beams generated by the SPring-8 Angstrom Compact Free-electron Laser. The change in diffraction angle provides a direct measure of the lattice spacing, allowing the density to be calculated with a precision of ±1%. From the known equation of state relations, this allows an estimation of the temperature responsible for the expansion as <1000 K. The subsequent ablation-driven compression was observed with a clear rise in density at later times. This demonstrates the feasibility of studying the dynamics of preheating and shock formation with unprecedented detail.

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