High-pressure sodium bulbs are a type of high-intensity discharge lamp, also known as an HID lamp, that are specially designed to provide for high-quality, high-intensity light output – therefore the name. They themselves are also sometimes known as HPS bulbs, but they should not be confused with similar HID lamps such as LPS (low-pressure sodium) bulbs, although the operation is somewhat similar by comparison.
High-pressure sodium lamps are some of the most commonly used HID lamps in the world, approached in a variety of different situations under the guise of a parking lot and street lighting. We’ll get more into some of the applications and appropriate uses of high-pressure sodium light bulbs shortly, but first, we’re going to shed some light on their operation.
High-pressure sodium lamps contain a tube, which is typically made of ceramic, as the tube is under high pressure and the ceramic is not only stronger than other materials that could be used but is also resistant to corrosion and chemical interaction. Inside the ceramic tube, there is a mixture of sodium, mercury, and a noble gas, sometimes xenon, that is maintained under high pressure. Here the origins of the name of the lamp may be starting to become clearer, as these lamps literally contain a tube that maintains sodium (and other chemicals) under high-pressure; hence, high-pressure sodium (HPS) lamp.
These lamps, which, like other HID lamps, require a ballast to regulate the voltage and the current fed to them. When you turn on the power to the lamp, the ballast sends a pulse of high-potential voltage through the tube, which heats up the gas within. The gas will get hotter and begin to glow; then the mercury and the sodium will begin to glow as well. The sodium requires the most heat to become vaporized or ionized and emits fairly yellow light. The mercury contained within the tube glows a much bluer white light, which when combined with the light emitted by the sodium is a much higher-quality light and color temperature.
Because these lights produce such excellent quality light and great light output, they are widely used for large area lighting, often used to illuminate roads, parking lots and other outdoor areas. Because they produce a lot of heat, they tend to be reserved for outdoor uses, and it is important to keep in mind that although they produce a lot of light output, the quality of the color rendering leaves a bit to be desired. Think of a time when you were under a street lamp; there is a good chance you had such an encounter with HPS lights, and will probably remember that they tend to cast a glow of color over anything they illuminate. That may be good for safety and navigation, but it is not good for color rendering. With that in mind, they are relatively efficient when compared to equivalent low-pressure sodium lamps and will last longer as well, making them a more practical alternative in many situations.
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