|Fluorescent light have been
around for the last 50 years or so, and have become very popular and
widely used in the last 20. Fluorescent lighting for aquarium use is
probably the best all-around bulb for the aquarium, and has become a
staple for aquarist's lighting needs.
The physiology of the light is actually fairly simple. The bulbs are basically long glass tubes which contain phosphor bits, and when an electrical current is run through the tube, these phosphors heat up and emit visible light. Different mixes of phosphors will give different properties of spectrum and intensity, resulting in different light colors.
Fluorescent bulbs come in three main forms. These are regular output (around 400 milliamps), high output (HO-around 800 milliamps), and very high output (VHO-around 1200 milliamps). The bulbs come in many different colors and wattages, and most bulbs run very cool, are inexpensive, and have a relatively long bulb life. They are also available in a broad spectrum of bulbs lengths.
Fixtures for these bulbs are broadly available, and come in many shapes and sizes. Most aquarium setups are sold as a tank/top/light combination. More often than not these light fixtures are fluorescent. Consider the specimens to be kept to decide the color (K temp) of bulb to be purchased.
Each bulb requires a ballast, which transforms energy from the electrical outlet to the bulb. These are rated in milliamps, so it's recommended that the ballast is matched to the milliamp ratings of the above bulbs.
Many fluorescent lighting hoods now offer electronic ballasts that can be operated by timers for automated lighting control. Consult the light manufacturer if this is an important option for you.
Some hobbyists, especially reef and freshwater plant aquarists, now use multiple fluorescent bulbs. Those who use the VHO fluorescent bulbs have great results in lumen production, and keep a low running heat. Another pro is that the bulbs are available in many color renditions, so it's easy to mix and match.
Mixing fluorescent bulbs with other lighting types (ie. metal halide, compact) will offer increase in overall lighting lumens, and color rendition of the total lighting system. Advanced hobbyists are known to mix bulbs and color temps to certain effects.
For most aquarists who intend on keeping tropical fish only, this is the lighting form we recommend. It's also an energy efficient, safe form of lighting that should be popular in the aquarium hobby for years to come.
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