The vacuum ultraviolet (VUV) emission of solid Ar, Kr, and Xe targets excited by heavy ion beams was studied in order to explore the possibility of VUV laser action. A pulsed 75 MeV 32S beam with 14.4 μJ pulse energy and 2 ns pulse width was used. Wavelength spectra measured during 10 and 90 ns time windows after the beam pulse showed strong VUV emission from the decay of the quasi‐molecular 1Σ+u and 3Σ+u self‐trapped excitons. The decay times of these states were measured for all three rare‐gas targets. Cross sections for stimulated emission of 5.7×10−18, 1.3×10−17, and 2.4×10−17 cm2 in Ar, Kr, and Xe, respectively, were deduced from the linewidth and lifetime of the 1Σ+u to ground‐state transition. A 1Σ+u state population density of 9.6×1013 cm−3 was determined in solid Xe from an absolute intensity measurement.