Silicon carbide and carbon nanostructures were produced by pyrolysis of organosilane or aromatic compounds in nanoporous sol-gel silica glasses. Intense photoluminescence was observed in the visible and the near infrared regions, depending on material processing. Emission bands at 2.97, 2.67, 2.53, 2.41, 2.24, 2.09, 1.93, 1.13, 1.00, and 0.85 eV were observed in samples prepared at temperatures between 870 and 1220 K. Phosphorescence emission showed two lifetime components at 300 K: a 0.03 s component and a very long component of 0.5–4 s that depends on the precursors and sample processing. These lifetimes approximately doubled at 77 K. The visible emission increased significantly as the temperature was elevated from 77 to 950 K, suggesting thermally assisted light emission from sites in the silica glasses containing SiC/C nanostructures. Surface SiC vacancy defects modeled using integrated ab initio quantum mechanics/molecular mechanics calculations suggest phosphorescence may originate from C vacancy (Si–Si dimers) in the visible and Si vacancy in the near infrared. © 2000 American Institute of Physics.