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Under certain discharge conditions, radial cataphoresis causes significant mercury depletion in a low-pressure neon–mercury positive column. This depletion can result in the addition of neon radiation to the emission spectrum of the column. The addition of neon radiation can be used to change the color of fluorescent lamps. In order to investigate the radial cataphoresis process, we performed spatially resolved emission measurements. For the relevant spectral lines of mercury and neon, the emission coefficient is determined, along with the density of the upper state of the corresponding transition. Absorption measurements are performed to check the amount of self-absorption of the spectral lines. We present emission and density profiles for various discharge conditions. The obtained results can be understood using an approximate description of the radial cataphoresis process. © 2000 American Institute of Physics.