Published online by Cambridge University Press: 22 February 2013
The processes responsible for initiation of electrical breakdown in xenon-filled tube with two spherical iron electrodes at 2.7-mbar pressure have been analyzed. The analysis is based on the experimental data of electrical breakdown time delay as a function of afterglow period. It is shown that positive ions remaining from previous discharge, as well as positive ions created in mutual collisions of metastable atoms in afterglow, have a dominant role in secondary emission of electrons from the cathode which lead to initiation of breakdown in early afterglow. In late afterglow, dominant role in initiation of breakdown is taken by N(4S) atoms formed during the discharge by dissociation of ground state nitrogen molecules that are present as impurities in xenon. When the concentration of N(4S) atoms decreases sufficiently, the initiation of breakdown is caused by cosmic radiation. Small doses of gamma-ray irradiation also contribute to the initiation of breakdown, but only for large values of the afterglow period.