We investigate the temporal photonic analogue of the dam-break phenomenon for shallow water by exploiting a fiber optics setup. We clearly observe the decay of the steplike input (photonic dam) into a pair of oppositely propagating rarefaction wave and dispersive shock wave. Our results show evidence for a critical transition of the dispersive shock into a self-cavitating state. The detailed observation of the cavitating state dynamics allows for a fully quantitative test of the Whitham modulation theory applied to the universal defocusing nonlinear SchrÃ¶dinger equation.
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