Luminescence is the "spontaneous emission of radiation from an electronically excited species (or from a vibrationally excited species) not in thermal equilibrium with its environment", according to the IUPAC definition. A luminescent object is emitting "cold light", in contrast to "incandescence", where an object only emits light after heating. Generally, the emission of light is due to the movement of electrons between different energy levels within an atom after excitation by external factors. However, the exact mechanism of light emission in "vibrationally excited species" is unknown, as seen in sonoluminescence.
The dials, hands, scales, and signs of aviation and navigational instruments and markings are often coated with luminescent materials in a process known as "luminising".
Luminescence occurs in some minerals when they are exposed to low-powered sources of ultraviolet or infrared electromagnetic radiation (for example, portable UV lamps) at atmospheric pressure and atmospheric temperatures. This property of these minerals can be used during the process of mineral identification at rock outcrops in the field or in the laboratory.
The term "luminescence" was first introduced in 1888.