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Is it triboluminescence?

  1. Nov 5, 2013 #1
    Hi all, I have had this on my mind for awhile now.
    My dad used to make neon signs for a living and one day a man came in and showed him a doughnut shaped glass object. When he would tilt it it would start to glow, which surprised my dad because he had never seen something like that before. To clarify, there were no electrodes or power source attached. The man said he used pure neon and put a blob of mercury into the glass. On the bottom of the doughnut shaped object it was ribbed. From what I have read, it seems like it could be triboluminescence. To be honest I am just very curious how this would work. The man said that they were used by the navy in the ocean, the waves would churn and it would be pretty much constantly glowing. Thanks
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 6, 2013 #2


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    Hi, sin4tra! Welcome to Physics Forums.

    Yes, it was triboluminescence. Here's the Wikipedia page with a general description you can start with:
    “A historically important instance of triboluminescence occurred in Paris in 1675. Astronomer Jean-Felix Picard observed that his barometer was glowing in the dark as he carried it. His barometer consisted of a glass tube that was partially filled with mercury. Whenever the mercury slid down the glass tube, the empty space above the mercury would glow. While investigating this phenomenon, researchers discovered that static electricity could cause low-pressure air to glow.”

    See this Wiki page for a good specific description:
    “Barometric light is a name for the light that is emitted by a mercury-filled barometer tube when the tube is shaken.”

    For an exact scientific explanation, see this:
    Letters to Nature, Vol. 391: 15 January 1998
    “Picosecond discharges and stick-slip friction at a moving meniscus of mercury on glass
  4. Nov 6, 2013 #3
    Thank you for the excellent answer!
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