Where a single brief event is monitored by an oscilloscope, such an event will be displayed by a conventional tube only while it actually occurs. The use of a long persistence phosphor may allow the image to be observed after the event, but only for a few seconds at best. This limitation can be overcome by the use of a direct view storage cathode ray tube (storage tube). A storage tube will continue to display the event after it has occurred until such time as it is erased. A storage tube is similar to a conventional tube except that it is equipped with a metal grid coated with a dielectric layer located immediately behind the phosphor screen. An externally applied voltage to the mesh initially ensures that the whole mesh is at a constant potential. This mesh is constantly exposed to a low velocity electron beam from a 'flood gun' which operates independently of the main gun. This flood gun is not deflected like the main gun but constantly 'illuminates' the whole of the storage mesh. The initial charge on the storage mesh is such as to repel the electrons from the flood gun which are prevented from striking the phosphor screen.
When the main electron gun writes an image to the screen, the energy in the main beam is sufficient to create a 'potential relief' on the storage mesh. The areas where this relief is created no longer repel the electrons from the flood gun which now pass through the mesh and illuminate the phosphor screen. Consequently, the image that was briefly traced out by the main gun continues to be displayed after it has occurred. The image can be 'erased' by re-supplying the external voltage to the mesh restoring its constant potential. The time for which the image can be displayed was limited because, in practice, the flood gun slowly neutralises the charge on the storage mesh. One way of allowing the image to be retained for longer is temporarily to turn off the flood gun. It is then possible for the image to be retained for several days. The majority of storage tubes allow for a lower voltage to be applied to the storage mesh which slowly restores the initial charge state. By varying this voltage a variable persistence is obtained. Turning off the flood gun and the voltage supply to the storage mesh allows such a tube to operate as a conventional oscilloscope tube.