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Scanning tunneling microscope (STM) light emission spectroscopy with picosecond time resolution has been developed and applied to the measurement of time-resolved spectra of STM light emission from an evaporated Au film. The spectra consist of two components in the time-energy domain. The first component is excited by the picosecond tunneling current pulses that are generated by picosecond laser irradiation at the STM tip-sample gap. The second component arises from the plane-wave surface plasmon polaritons that are excited at the Au surface by the laser and made radiative by the presence of the STM tip that breaks the translational symmetry of the surface. © 2000 American Institute of Physics.