Vacuum ultraviolet emission and electrical characteristics of a simple discharge configuration consisting of two planar cylindrical electrodes operated with a dc voltage have been measured over a wide range of He/Xe mixtures and discharge pressures. Breakdown characteristics are consistent with those found in the literature, however current–voltage characteristics and the inferred discharge resistivity suggest the presence of a complex process controlling electron emission at the cathode. Ultraviolet vacuum emission maps of atomic and molecular xenon at 147, 150, and 173 nm, respectively, have been measured as a function of pressure, from 60 to 500 Torr, and gas mixture, from pure Xe to 5% Xe in He. The calibrated ratios of each emission map help to visualize the zones of strongest ultraviolet emission over a wide range of operating conditions. One-dimensional simulations of the breakdown voltage and current discharge have been performed using the commercially available discharge-modeling package SIGLO. Good agreement with experimental results is found in the case of pure helium and xenon, however, in the case of pure xenon, the gas temperature was adjusted (elevated) in order to reproduce the measured current–voltage characteristics. Modeling of the electron number density distribution indicates that the discharge is principally composed of a thick ion sheath near the cathode. © 2001 American Institute of Physics.