The effect of decoherence, induced by spontaneous emission, on the dynamics of cold atoms periodically kicked by an optical lattice is experimentally and theoretically studied. Ideally, the mean energy growth is essentially unaffected by weak decoherence, but the resonant momentum distributions are fundamentally altered. It is shown that experiments are inevitably sensitive to certain nontrivial features of these distributions, in a way that explains the puzzle of the observed enhancement of resonances by decoherence [Phys. Rev. Lett. 87, 074102 (2001)]. This clarifies both the nature of the coherent evolution, and the way in which decoherence disrupts it.
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