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What are Xenon Headlights?

By Harriette Halepis
Updated May 23, 2024
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Xenon headlights are headlights that are filled with xenon gas. Xenon is a colorless and odorless gas that can be found, in trace amounts, within the Earth's atmosphere. This type of headlight is easy to distinguish from other headlights, since it has a neon-like sheen. Prior to 1898, xenon was entirely unknown, though this gas is now used in many different ways.

Morris Travers and William Ramsay first detected xenon in 1898. While air that had been turned into a liquid form, the two scientists noticed that a gas was being released from the residue. Ramsay and Morris decided to call the gas "xenon," which was derived from the Greek word xenos meaning "foreigner." It was not until the early 1930s that xenon was placed inside of a light fixture.Harold Edgerton, an engineer and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, first experimented with xenon lights while attempting to create a photography tool. Prior to creating a light that sent electricity through xenon gas, Edgerton was experimenting with strobe lights.

Commercial manufacturers create xenon headlights through a complex process that involves the separation of air. When air is split into nitrogen and oxygen, the oxygen is then turned into a liquid. This liquid oxygen, contains small amounts of xenon and krypton. Through further processes, the xenon can then be contained and used to create xenon headlights.

Xenon headlights can be found around the world, since they tend to illuminate dark roads better than regular headlights. While xenon headlights are popular, these lights can be dangerous if they shatter. Accidentally breathing xenon gas can cause a person to enter into an anesthetic state. Xenon cannot be contained inside of a plastic container, and attempting to do so will cause the gas to slowly leak from the container. Thus, xenon headlights are usually made from glass instead of plastic.

Since it takes many hours to create one xenon headlight, these lights are frequently more expensive than regular headlights. Xenon headlights can be purchased online, in various auto parts stores, or in most large department stores. These headlights do not have to be installed professionally, though it is important to install them carefully in order to avoid a gas leak.

WikiMotors is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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