Nixie tube

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A nixie tube is an electronic device for displaying numerals or other information. The glass tube contains a wire-mesh anode and multiple cathodes. In most tubes, the cathodes are shaped like numerals. Applying power to one cathode surrounds it with an orange glow discharge. The tube is filled with a gas at low pressure, usually mostly neon and often a little mercury and/or argon, in a Penning mixture.[1]

Although it resembles a vacuum tube in appearance, its operation does not depend on thermionic emission of electrons from a heated cathode. It is therefore called a cold-cathode tube (a form of gas filled tube), or a variant of neon lamp. Such tubes rarely exceed 40 °C (104 °F) even under the most severe of operating conditions in a room at ambient temperature.[2]

The most common form of nixie tube has ten cathodes in the shapes of the numerals 0 to 9 (and occasionally a decimal point or two), but there are also types that show various letters, signs and symbols. Because the numbers and other characters are arranged one behind another, each character appears at a different depth, giving Nixie based displays a distinct appearance. A related device is the pixie tube, which uses a stencil mask with numeral-shaped holes instead of shaped cathodes. Some Russian nixies, e.g. the IN-14, used an upside-down digit 2 as the digit 5, presumably to save manufacturing costs as there is no obvious technical or aesthetic reason.

Each cathode can be made to glow in the characteristic neon red-orange color by applying about 170 volts DC at a few milliamperes between a cathode and the anode. The current limiting is normally implemented as an anode resistor of a few tens of thousands of ohms. Nixies exhibit negative resistance and will maintain their glow at typically 20 V to 30 V below the strike voltage. Some color variation can be observed between types, caused by differences in the materials and gas mixtures used. Longer-life tubes that were manufactured later in the nixie timeline have mercury added to reduce sputtering[2] resulting in a blue or purple tinge to the emitted light. In some cases, these colors are filtered out by a red or orange filter coating on the glass.


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