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We present a generally applicable experimental method for the direct measurement of nascent spin-orbit state distributions of atomic photofragments based on the detection of vacuum ultraviolet (VUV)-excited autoionizing-Rydberg (VUV-EAR) states. The incorporation of this VUV-EAR method in the application of the newly established VUV-VUV laser velocity-map-imaging-photoion (VMI-PI) apparatus has made possible the branching ratio measurement for correlated spin-orbit state resolved product channels, CO( 3Π; v) + O(3P) and CO( ; v) + O(3P), formed by VUV photoexcitation of CO to the 4s(1 1) Rydberg state at 97,955.7 cm−1. The total kinetic energy release (TKER) spectra obtained from the O+ VMI-PI images of O(3P) reveal the formation of correlated CO( 3Π; v = 0–2) with well-resolved v = 0–2 vibrational bands. This observation shows that the dissociation of CO to form the spin-allowed CO( 3Π; v = 0–2) + O(3P) channel has no potential energy barrier. The TKER spectra for the spin-forbidden CO( ; v) + O(3P) channel were found to exhibit broad profiles, indicative of the formation of a broad range of rovibrational states of CO( ) with significant vibrational populations for v = 18–26. While the VMI-PI images for the CO( 3Π; v = 0–2) + O(3P) channel are anisotropic, indicating that the predissociation of CO 4s(1 1) occurs via a near linear configuration in a time scale shorter than the rotational period, the angular distributions for the CO( ; v) + O(3P) channel are close to isotropic, revealing a slower predissociation process, which possibly occurs on a triplet surface via an intersystem crossing mechanism.