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Diffraction in time (DIT) is a fundamental phenomenon in quantum dynamics due to time-dependent obstacles and slits. It is formally analogous to diffraction of light, and is expected to play an increasing role in the design of coherent matter wave sources, as in the atom laser, to analyze time-of-flight information and emission from ultrafast pulsed excitations, and in applications of coherent matter waves in integrated atom-optical circuits. We demonstrate that DIT emerges robustly in quantum waves emitted by an exponentially decaying source and provide a simple explanation of the phenomenon, as an interference of two characteristic velocities. This allows for its controllability and optimization.