How Everything Works
How Everything Works How Everything Works

Question 378

How does an ultraviolet ("black light") fluorescent tube work?
Some ultraviolet fluorescent tubes are simply the mercury discharge tubes (as in a normal fluorescent tube) but without any phosphor coating on the inside of the tube and with a quartz glass tube that transmits 254 nanometer light. In such a bulb, the 254-nanometer light emitted by mercury vapor in a discharge is emitted directly from the tube without being converted into visible light. A filter somewhere in the system absorbs the small amount of visible light emitted by a low-pressure mercury discharge. For the longer wavelength black light used in most applications, other gases that emit lots of 300-400 nanometer light are used. Again, these tubes have no phosphor coatings to convert the ultraviolet light into visible light. One other way to make longer wavelength black light is to use a mercury discharge but to coat the inside of the tube with a phosphor that fluoresces ultraviolet light between 300 and 400 nanometer.

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