X-ray tubes are widely used for generating X-ray radiation. This radiation has a shorter wavelength than visible light and can easily penetrate through different materials. It can be used in different applications such as materials characterization (XRF, XPS, XRD etc), medicine (x-ray tomography) or security in airports.
The radiation is generated with the help of accelerated electrons. These electrons are first generated on a tungsten cathode via thermoionic emission. Then these electrons are accelerated towards the anode due to a high electric potential between the anode and the cathode. When the electrons interact with the anode, x-rays are emitted. The radiation consists of two components – characteristic x-rays and bremsstrahlung. Characteristic x-rays are generated during the relaxation process of excited anode atoms. This radiation has a specific energy. Bremsstrahlung with a broad range of energy however is emitted from the primary electrons when they slow down or change trajectory during interaction with the anode.
The generated x-rays leave the tube through a beryllium window. This material is used as it has a low atomic number and doesnt absorb much of the emitted radiation.
There are also other types of x-ray tubes, such as the twin anode x-ray tube and the rotating anode x-ray tube.
In the case of twin-anode system, the anodes are made from different materials and only one of them is bombarded with electrons at the same time. This allows fast and easy switching between two excitation energies. The other anode will also serve as a backup if one should fail.
Using a rotating anode allows the heat to distribute on a larger surface area and therefore it is possible to get x-rays with much higher energies and intensities.