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Mercury-vapor lamp

  A mercury-vapor lamp is a gas discharge lamp which uses mercury in an excited state to produce light. The arc discharge is generally confined to a small fused quartz arc tube mounted within a larger borosilicate glass bulb. The outer bulb may be clear or coated with a phosphor; in either case, the outer bulb provides thermal insulation, protection from ultraviolet radiation, and a convenient mounting for the fused quartz arc tube.

Mercury vapor lamps (and their relatives) are often used because they are relatively efficient. Phosphor coated bulbs offer better color rendition than either high- or low-pressure sodium vapor lamps. They also offer a very long lifetime, as well as intense lighting for several applications.


Theory and relations

The mercury vapor lamp is a negative resistance device and requires auxiliary components (for example, a ballast) to prevent it from taking excessive current. The auxiliary components are substantially similar to the ballasts used with fluorescent lamps. It is used often for outside lighting (signs) and for auditoriums and stages.

Also like fluorescent lamps, mercury vapor lamps usually require a starter which is usually contained within the mercury vapor lamp itself. A third electrode is mounted near one of the main electrodes and connected through a resistor to the other main electrode. When power is applied, there is sufficient voltage to strike an arc between the starting electrode and the adjacent main electrode. This arc discharge eventually provides enough ionized mercury to strike an arc between the main electrodes. Occasionally, a thermal switch will also be installed to short the starting electrode to the adjacent main electrode, completely suppressing the starting arc once the main arc strikes.

Variation: Metal halide

A closely-related lamp design called the metal halide lamp uses various other elements in an amalgam with the mercury. Sodium iodide and Scandium iodide are commonly in use. These lamps can produce much better quality light without resorting to phosphors. If they use a starting electrode, there is always a thermal shorting switch to eliminate any electrical potential between the main electrode and the starting electrode once the lamp is lit. (This electrical potential in the presence of the halides can cause the failure of the glass/metal seal). More modern metal halide systems do not use a separate starting electrode; instead, the lamp is started using high voltage pulses as with high-pressure sodium vapor lamps. "MetalArc" is Osram Sylvania's trademark for their metal halide lamps; "Arcstream" and "MultiVapor" are General Electric's trademark. Besides their use in traditional outdoor lighting, these lamps now appear in most computer and video projectors. However, Philips' UHP lamp, introduced in 1995, contains only mercury. As an example of application and efficiency of mercury lamps, the 61" Samsung DLP rear projection TV (HL-S6187W) uses a 132 watt Philips UHP lamp.


When the lamp is first turned on, mercury-vapor lamps will produce a dark blue glow because only a small amount of the mercury is ionized and the gas pressure in the arc tube is very low (so much of the light is produced in the ultraviolet mercury bands). As the main arc strikes and the gas heats up and increases in pressure, the light shifts into the visible range and the high gas pressure causes the mercury emission bands to broaden somewhat, producing a light that appears more-white to the human eye (although it is still not a continuous spectrum). Even at full intensity, the light from a mercury vapor lamp with no phosphors is distinctly bluish in color.

Color considerations

To correct the bluish tinge, many mercury vapor lamps are coated on the inside of the outer bulb with a phosphor that converts some portion of the ultraviolet emissions into red light. This helps to fill in the otherwise very-deficient red end of the electromagnetic spectrum. These lamps are generally called "color corrected" lamps. Most modern mercury vapor lamps have this coating. One of the original complaints against mercury lights was they tended to make people look like "bloodless corpses" because of the lack of light from the red end of the spectrum. There is also an increase in red color (e.g., due to the continuous radiation) in ultra-high pressure mercury vapor lamps (usually greater than 200 atm.) which has found application in modern compact projection devices.

Emits Wavelengths - 253.7, 365.4, 404.7, 435.8, 546.1, and 578.0 nm.

Light pollution considerations

For placements where light pollution is of prime importance (for example, an observatory parking lot), low pressure sodium is preferred. As it emits light on only one wavelength, it is the easiest to filter out. Mercury vapor lamps without any phosphor are second best; they produce only a few distinct mercury lines that need to be filtered out.

Ultraviolet hazards

All mercury vapor lamps (including metal halide lamps) must contain a feature (or be installed in a fixture that contains a feature) that prevents ultraviolet radiation from escaping. Usually, the borosilicate glass outer bulb of the lamp performs this function but special care must be taken if the lamp is installed in a situation where this outer envelope can become damaged.[1] There have been documented cases of lamps being damaged in gymnasiums and sun burns and eye inflammation have resulted.[2] When used in locations like gyms, the fixture should contain a strong outer guard or an outer lens to protect the lamp's outer bulb. Also, special "safety" lamps are made which will deliberately burn out if the outer glass is broken. This is usually achieved by a thin carbon strip used to connect one of the electrodes, which will burn up in the presence of air.

Even with these methods, some UV radiation can still pass through the outer bulb of the lamp. This causes the aging process of some plastics used in the construction of luminaires to be sped up, leaving them significantly discolored after only a few years' service. Polycarbonate suffers particularly from this problem; and it is not uncommon to see fairly new polycarbonate surfaces positioned near the lamp to have turned a dull, 'ear-wax'-like color after only a short time. Certain polishes, such as Brasso, can be used to remove some of the yellowing, but usually only with a limited success.

End of life

Mercury Vapor keeps burning and burning, continually giving off less light, while consuming the same amount of energy as when new. They practically never burn out, but need replacement as they gradually dim.

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ Thun, MJ; Altman R, Ellingson O, Mills LF, Talansky ML (Nov 1982). "Ocular complications of malfunctioning mercury vapor lamps". Ann Ophthalmol. 14 (11): 1017-20. PMID: 7181332.
  • Waymouth, John (1971). Electric Discharge Lamps. Cambridge, MA: The M.I.T. Press. ISBN 0-262-23048-8. 
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Mercury-vapor_lamp". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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