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How Does Neon Gas Light?

June 14, 2017
Neon Sign Neon Sign Neon Sign Neon Sign Neon Sign

How Does Neon Gas Light?

Neon gas, most commonly found commercially in signs, is trapped in a glass tube with a metal electrode fused on each end. High voltage transformers are attached to the electrodes causing electron transmission. The electrons become accelerated to a high rate of speed. When a specific level is reached the tube ignites and the gas discharge process begins. This process repeats itself 60 times a second when operating on alternating current. Which gives you some idea of how much activity is going on in a neon tube.

Neon itself is an insulator, having eight valance electrons. When Electricity is passed through the gas by means of impurities supplied by the electrodes. The electrodes are coated with a thin coating of Barium, which has only two valance electrons, making it a conductor. The Barium electrons pass through the gas they strike the Neon electrons sending them temporarily into a larger orbit. As the orbit returns to normal the excess energy is released as a photon: light. As the Barium electrons continue to the other electrode the circuit is completed.

How Neon Color is made.

The photon released by Neon gas is red in color. That of Argon / Mercury is 10% light and 90% UV radiation, which comes out as a pale blue color. These combinations of gases, when pumped into glass tubes with different types of powder coats on the inside, create the 40 or so colors of “Neon” available today.

High voltage neon transformers range from 2,000 to 15,000 secondary volts (EMF) and 20, 30, or 60 milliamps. It is sometimes surprising to learn that a smaller diameter glass neon tube (say 10mm) needs a larger transformer to operate than a larger diameter tube (say 15mm) all other things being equal. Although, realizing the rules of resistance and realizing that the larger tube is equivalent to a larger gage wire, or a bigger door to push the electrons through it, it makes sense that it takes less energy to push the gas through a larger tube.

Written by Martin Johnson

Martin has been a part of the Signs Plus team for over 14 years and been with the industry for over 30 years. He is a master fabricator.

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