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Light and Dark

Light and Dark

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Published by: azmi0802 on Sep 03, 2008
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10/15/2011

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During the 20th century a number of alternative types of lighting
have been developed. Instead of heating a small amount of a re-
fractory solid to a high temperature, the energy is used in a more
selective way, resulting in a much longer working life and consid-
erably higher efficiency. A widely used technique is the passage
of electric current through a gas or vapour. An input of 60 W of
electrical power into this type of lamp typically produces around
ten times as much visible light as the same power supplied to a
GLS lamp, or 600 times the light from a single candle. There are
two disadvantages: they need additional circuitry to get started;
and they emit light at only a small number of discrete wave-
lengths. Low-pressure sodium-vapour lamps create light very ef-
ficiently and so are often used for street lighting. They emit light
at only two wavelengths (589.0 and 589.6 nm). As these wave-
lengths are very close to each other in the yellow region of the
spectrum, it is almost impossible to recognize colours. However,
the output spectrum is very different for high-pressure sodium
lamps. These lamps are less efficient at converting electrical en-
ergy into visible light but produce a range of visible wavelengths

13

LIGHT AND DARK

Figure 1.5. Spectra from electrical discharges in mercury vapour. At low
pressure the light output is concentrated within a narrow wavelength
band in the ultraviolet. At higher pressure the emission shifts to a set of
narrow bands within the ultraviolet and visible ranges, shown here by
the broken line. In contrast, an incandescent tungsten filament emits a
broad range of wavelengths with the maximum intensity in the infrared
(beyond the right edge of the diagram).

and so permit moderately accurate colour recognition. Conse-
quently high-pressure sodium-vapour lamps are now often cho-
sen for lighting streets and business premises.

As figure 1.5 shows, pressure affects the emission from mer-
cury vapour lamps too. High-pressure lamps produce visible
light directly at five wavelengths (404, 436, 546, 577 and 579 nm)
in the violet, green and yellow parts of the spectrum. Fluorescent
materialsareused tocreatesome redfromthe unwanted emission
in the UV, leading to a better colour balance. The colour render-
ing and efficiency of high-pressure mercury vapour lamps have
led to their widespread use for industrial and street lighting. At
low pressure, mercury vapour emits almost exclusively UV radi-
ation, but a number of fluorescent materials are available to ab-
sorb the UV and emit light at longer wavelengths in the visible

14

Essential, useful and frivolous light

range. This is the basis of the operation of fluorescent tubes. The
materials chosen for a particular application depend on the rela-
tive importance of accuratecolour rendering and of a high overall
brightness.

Although a fluorescent lamp may feel cool to the fingers and
have gaps in the output spectrum, it can be allocated a nominal
colour temperature, which corresponds to the temperature of an
incandescentbodyemitting light subjectivelyperceivedtobe sim-
ilar. Somewhat perversely, the human mind considers reddish
light to be warm and bluish light to be cold so that ‘warm white’
has a colour temperature around 3000 K whereas ‘cool white’ has
a colour temperature around 4000 K.
For the extremely bright white light needed for searchlights,
cinemaprojectorsandfilming atnight, the oldcarbonarchasbeen
replaced by new forms of electric arc lamp. In xenon short-arc
lamps the arc is created in a gap of less than 10 mm inside a silica
bulbcontaining xenonatapressureofseveralatmospheres. These
lamps can be produced with electrical ratings from a few tens of
watts to several kilowatts. They are sometimes used for vehicle
headlamps, but generally they are unsuited for domestic use be-
cause they have lifetimes of only a few hundred hours, require
a very high voltage pulse for starting, contain gas under pressure
evenwhencold andmaycauseeyedamage. The emission isfairly
uniform over a range of wavelengths extending from the infrared
to the ultraviolet. The output resembles sunlight because it con-
tains substantial amounts of light with short wavelengths.

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