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Getting noble gases to emit light


Now that I know this place exists, I'm full of questions!

Another idea I've been tossing around is alternate ways to light up a neon light. How much voltage do I need to apply to the cathode before it emits light in the visible spectrum? I remember reading about some idiot who stuck one of these in a microwave oven, and it lit up all kinds of bright. So that got me thinking. This probably isn't the place for electromagnetic stuff, but I know enough safety about it to build a shielded enclosure to dump microwaves into. So if I had a bunch of neon tubes chilling in my shielded container, and I dumped 800 watts of microwave energy in it, they should light up right?

My big question is this: Does current have to flow through a tube full of gas, or can I apply voltage anywhere I want to, so long as it flows to ground at some point? How conductive are the noble gases, and what other gases could I use to make a neat light show?

My intention is to adjust microwave flow based on stereo output, and have a nifty light display using an energized gas.


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