Electron temperature measurements during counterhelicity spheromak merging studies at the Swarthmore Spheromak Experiment (SSX) [M. R. Brown, Phys. Plasmas 6, 1717 (1999)] are presented. VUV monochromator measurements of impurity emission lines are compared with model spectra produced by the non-LTE excitation kinematics code PRISMSPECT [J. J. MacFarlane et al., in Proceedings of the Third Conference on Inertial Fusion Science and Applications (2004)] to yield the electron temperature in the plasma with 1 µs time resolution. Average T_e is seen to increase from 12 to 19 eV during spheromak merging. Average C III ion temperature, measured with a new ion Doppler spectrometer (IDS) [C. D. Cothran et al., Rev. Sci. Instrum. 77, 063504 (2006)], likewise rises during spheromak merging, peaking at ~22 eV, but a similar increase in T_i is seen during single spheromak discharges with no merging. The VUV emission line measurements are also used to constrain the concentrations of various impurities in the SSX plasma, which are dominated by carbon, but include some oxygen and nitrogen. A burst of soft x-ray emission is seen during reconnection with a new four-channel detector (SXR). There is evidence for spectral changes in the soft x-ray emission as reconnection progresses, although our single-temperature equilibrium spectral models are not able to provide adequate fits to all the SXR data.