A sodium-vapor lamp is a gas-discharge lamp that uses sodium in an excited state to produce light at a characteristic wavelength near 589 nm.
Two varieties of such lamps exist low pressure and high pressure. Low-pressure sodium lamps are highly efficient electrical light sources, but their yellow light restricts applications to outdoor lightings, such as street lamps. High-pressure sodium lamps emit a broader spectrum of light than the low-pressure lamps, but they still have poorer color rendering than other types of lamps. Low-pressure sodium lamps only give monochromatic yellow light and so inhibit color vision at night.
Low-pressure sodium (LPS) lamps have a borosilicate glass gas discharge tube (arc tube) containing solid sodium, a small amount of neon, and argon gas in a Penning mixture to start the gas discharge. The discharge tube may be linear (SLI lamp) or U-shaped. When the lamp is first started, it emits a dim red/pink light to warm the sodium metal; within a few minutes as the sodium metal vaporizes, the emission becomes the common bright yellow. These lamps produce a virtually monochromatic light averaging a 589.3 nm wavelength (actually two dominant spectral lines very close together at 589.0 and 589.6 nm). The colors of objects illuminated by only this narrow bandwidth are difficult to distinguish.
LPS lamps have an outer glass vacuum envelope around the inner discharge tube for thermal insulation, which improves their efficiency. Earlier LPS lamps had a detachable dewar jacket (SO lamps). Lamps with a permanent vacuum envelope (SOI lamps) were developed to improve thermal insulation. Further improvement was attained by coating the glass envelope with an infrared reflecting layer of indium tin oxide, resulting in SOX lamps.
LPS lamps are among the most efficient electrical light sources when measured in photopic lighting conditions, producing above 100 and up to 206 lm/W. This high efficiency is partly due to the light emitted being at a wavelength near the peak sensitivity of the human eye. They are used mainly for outdoor lighting (such as street lights and security lighting) where faithful color rendition is not important. Recent studies show that under typical nighttime mesopic driving conditions, whiter light can provide better results at a lower level of illumination.
LPS lamps are similar to fluorescent lamps in that they are a low-intensity light source with a linear lamp shape. They do not exhibit a bright arc as do High-intensity discharge (HID) lamps; they emit a softer luminous glow, resulting in less glare. Unlike HID lamps, during a voltage dip, low-pressure sodium lamps return to full brightness rapidly. LPS lamps are available with power ratings from 10 W up to 180 W; longer lamp lengths can, however, suffer design and engineering problems.
Modern LPS lamps have a service life of about 18,000 hours and do not decline in lumen output with age, though they do increase in energy consumption by about 10% towards the end of life. This property contrasts with mercury vapor HID lamps, which become dimmer towards the end of life to the point of being ineffective while consuming undiminished electrical power.