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Short arc bulbs are designed to provide a source of extremely high illuminance and radiance. They are primarily used in searchlights, projectors, display systems and optical instruments. Short arc bulbs are high pressure gas discharge with a short electrode-stabilized arc. The small size of the arc length makes these bulbs excellent point source lamps. With current modulation, short arc bulbs can emit modulated illumination for specialized applications.

Mercury short arc lamps take several minutes to reach full light output, To shorten the start-up time, a 50/50 mix of mercury and xenon gas is sometimes used and these bulbs are referred to as mercury-xenon. 100% xenon short arc produces a 5000K, true continuous full-spectrum from UV to visible to IR wavelengths and can have wattages as high as 32,000 watts. Most short arc lamps are designed for direct current (dc) operation because of increased stability and longer bulb life.