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Let's say I want to put air through an optical spectrometer. It doesn't need to be NASA accurate, but suppose I just want a rudimentary measure of carbon from the carbon frequencies.

How can I get "light" from this gas? Can I just run a high voltage current through it?

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The easiest way to get (visible) light from matter is to excite the outer shell electrons, which then emit a photon as they fall back to their ground state. Running a high enough voltage through a gas to create a spark would do just that, and this technique is called spark emission spectroscopy. However, if this is a practical problem you are facing, there are probably easier and more accurate ways to measure the carbon content of air.

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  • $\begingroup$ I want to measure carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Preferably without altering the gas. The problem with sparks is that it causes oxidation. Can you excite a gas without raising the temperature? $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 14 at 20:37
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    $\begingroup$ You could use a gas discharge tube, but the pressure is very low. $\endgroup$
    – trula
    Commented Apr 14 at 20:54

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