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Atomic spectra Light emitted or absorbed by single atoms contributes only very little to the colours of our surroundings. Neon signs (or other gas discharge tubes) as used for advertising, sodium or mercury vapour lamps show atomic emission; the colours of fireworks are due to it. The aurora borealis (northern light) is very rare at our latitudes, and to appreciate the colours of cosmic objects, powerful telescopes are necessary. Neon, which gives red colour in a gas discharge, is a colourless gas. If the light of the sun is spread out into different colours by a simple glass prism, the narrow absorption lines cannot be seen.