Comparing spectra from compact fluorescent lights in lounge, portable 230V desk lamp and portable 12V calibration light

In previous posts, I have discussed the various calibration lights I have tried for my spectrometers. Each time I come back ultimately to fluorescent lights – these have typical spectra and easy to identify peaks and are ideal for relatively low resolution spectrometers such as my CCDSPEC and Science Surplus DIY Spectrometers.

They are available as long bulbs or more compact portable bulbs called Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFL). The spectra are similar.

Initially I used a compact fluorescent light in my study/lounge but then realised I could do with a portable arrangement to take outside into the field. I obtained a simple desk lamp and used 230V CFL bulbs powered using an inverter on my leisure battery. This is not the safest method – 230V can cause harm – but then I found a caravan online shop selling off its last 12V CFL bulbs. I did not realise these were sold in 12V varieties so I have obtained a number of these and built myself a lamp holder than plugs into a 12V cigar-type lighter plug socket so it can be powered from any standard 12V telescope power supply.

In today’s post, I am comparing the spectra on the three sources of CFL bulbs – the ceiling lights in my lounge, 240V desk lamp and homemade 12V mobile calibration system. The question I need to answer is whether all three produce similar spectra – in which case the 12V homemade setup will be my preferred calibration light as it is mobile and safe.

I used my CCDSPEC spectrometer for today’s tests.


Taking spectrum from 240V desk lamp CFL arrangement (below):


Taking spectrum from 12V desk lamp CFL arrangement (below):


Comparing the three spectra:

Spectrum from 240V CFL ceiling light (below):

Spectrum from 240V CFL desk lamp (below):

Spectrum from 12V CFL homemade lamp (below – here I have altered the exposure to give longer and shorter exposures to show that this made minimal difference to the spectrum as long as it did not reach maximum (16000 on intensity at which point peaks broadened and became less useful for calibration as exact wavelengths difficult to read from graph)):


To assist in comparison between the three spectra, I have repeated them below but this time one after the other:

It is amazing how similar these bulbs are – from different manufacturers but still providing same peaks with slight differences only in intensity. It shows that the similar chemical makeup of their constituent gases and that the emission spectra of those gases do not vary.

My conclusion – any of these bulbs can be used for calibration of my spectroscopes and hence I can happily use the 12V outside in the field.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.