This Lightning Detector Is Remarkably Sensitive

Lightning strikes are quite high energy events, and release plenty of radio frequency energy when they go off in the atmosphere. This makes them easy to detect, and the magnitude of the energy release means it can be done at impressive range. [Jay] decided to build a device of his very own, and was impressed at its detection performance.

The device is a simple but effective design. An antenna is used to capture RF signals, and these are then amplified through a single transistor stage. This is connected to a basic transistor flasher circuit, which is biased to only flash when tipped over the edge by an incoming signal. After building the circuit, [Jay] noticed that the device wasn’t just picking up signals from lightning, but also those from many other smaller discharges. The device was able to detect a shock from wearing socks on a wood floor, as well as discharges from a Van de Graff generator and even just from getting out of a chair!

Lightning detectors have been around for a long time now; we’ve seen others grace these pages before. Video after the break.

16 thoughts on “This Lightning Detector Is Remarkably Sensitive

  1. I’ve set up on at a worksite before, and was able to set it off with the sparks from a brushed universal motor on a power drill.

    We now use optical lightning detectors as they are less prone to false positives

    1. Marcus: How about some detailed information about your “Optical Lightning Detector”? How was this done? What type of optical devices and/or methods were used? What does the circuitry consist of? What kind of output device do you use? (i.e. Audio buzzer, LED’s, flash-bombs, etc.)? Annn-n-n-n-nd…..should you ever need any assistance in either the mechanical and/or PCB designs of anything you design and would like to build (prototype, production, etc.) let me know and I would be more than happy to assist you. I am both a “Senior Mechanical Designer” – AND – a “Senior PCB Designer” and I could help you with the “Electronics Packaging” of any of your designs!!! Hope to hear from you soon.

    1. You can detect the distance between sensor and strike. Using trilateration with multiple sensors you can then calculate the position off the strike and so the direction from your position. Thats how works.

      Considering the device shown in this article i would say it is useless as la lightning detector because it will produce lots and lots of false positives. There are some clever IC for avoiding this, but i don’t recall the name.

      1. Blitzortung actually uses Multilateration (Time of arrival) i guess that’s what you meant. Stations have a GPS to get exact time and uses some filters and interference detection to avoid most false positives. the server then figures out which signals are good ones and makes the math. a station with a decent antenna could detect strikes several medium sized countries away. detection is done in lower khz range. and quite exact.

        There are systems based on triangulation too. basically one station have 2 directional antennas 90degrees apart and figure out an 180 degree direction based on amplitude difference between antennas.(you don’t know the polarity of the strike from just 2 antennas) an this is synced against another station to get a triangulation point and the polarity. not very exact..

        polarity of nearby strikes can be detected with a h-field antenna. basically measure the electrical charge in the air and detect rapid changes in that.

        there are cloud to cloud strikes, cloud to ground and ground to cloud (a bit more rare)

    2. The NDB in aircraft (for those that still have them) will point to lightning strikes, and this is used as the basis (with a lot of Fourier dark magic) for the popular “stormscope” retrofit that is available and this will give a good approximation of magnitude & range.

      Near real time ground-based radar/weather data uploads available in flight are displacing this though. You can get real time lightning strikes in, as well as standalone ones that use ground-based data such as;t=3;s=0;o=0;b=;ts=0;

  2. A much more complex circuit that a P and N channel MOSFET negative & positive charge sensor design. Also, why use plastic anywhere near it which would retain an electrostatic charge on its surface?

  3. Also a realiable means of detect the operation of the switch that turns on the light in your refridgerator when you open the door. You might use that to trigger and canera to find out who’s sneaking a snack in the middle of ghe night.

  4. A lightning detection network that was utilized by a former employer of mine, also indicated if strikes were “cloud to ground” or “ground to cloud” by using + and – signs.
    In addition to warnings for blasting operations, airlines used that network to determine when to cease/resume ramp operations at their terminals.

  5. I first went to, live map and enabled four scripts and still couldn’t see shit.

    Then I went to and only one script was needed to get a working view.


  6. I would like to understand the physics surrounding the creation of the radio wave at the arc-spark event. In lightning it is evidently from collisions between electrons and ions. In other cases it may be electron crashing into cathode spot. What is a source that explains how radio wavelengths (very very long) get stimulated from arcs and sparks and partial discharges, some of which are very small compared with radio wavelength.

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