Lightning is a powerful and seemingly mysterious force of nature, capable of releasing huge amounts of energy over relatively short times and striking almost at random. Lightning obeys the laws of physics just like anything else, though, and with a little bit of technology some of its mysteries can be unraveled. For one, it only takes a small radio receiver to detect lightning strikes, and [mircemk] shows us exactly how to do that.
When lightning flashes, it also lights up an incredibly wide spectrum of radio spectrum as well. This build uses an AM radio built into a small integrated circuit to detect some of those radio waves. An Arduino Nano receives the signal from the TA7642 IC and lights up a series of LEDs as it detects strikes in closer and closer proximity to the detector. A white LED flashes when a strike is detected, and some analog circuitry supports an analog galvanometer which moves during lightning strikes as well.
While this project isn’t the first lightning detector we’ve ever seen, it does have significantly more sensitivity than most other homemade offerings. Something like this would be a helpful tool to have for lifeguards at a pool or for a work crew that is often outside, but we also think it’s pretty cool just to have around for its own sake, and three of them networked together would make triangulation of strikes possible too.
Continue reading “Detect Lightning Strikes With An Arduino”
Most of us don’t spend that much time thinking about lightning. Every now and then we hear some miraculous news story about the man who just survived his fourth lightning strike, but aside from that lightning probably doesn’t play that large a role in your day-to-day life. Unless, that is, you work in aerospace, radio, or a surprisingly long list of other industries that have to deal with its devastating effects.
Humans have been trying to protect things from lightning since the mid-1700s, when Ben Franklin conducted his fabled kite experiment. He created the first lightning rod, an iron pole with a brass tip. He had speculated that the conductor would draw the charge out of thunderclouds, and he was correct. Since then, there haven’t exactly been leaps and bounds in the field of lightning rod design. They are still, essentially, a metal rods that attract lightning strikes and shunt the energy safely into the earth. Just as Ben Franklin first did in the 1700s, they are still installed on buildings today to protect from lightning and do a fine job of it. While this works great for most structures, like your house for example, there are certain situations where a tall metal pole just won’t cut it.
Continue reading “Of Lasers And Lightning: Thwarting Thor With Technology”
Join us on Wednesday, March 31 at noon Pacific for the Physics of Lightning Hack Chat with Greg Leyh!
Of all the things that were around to terrify our ancestors, lightning must have been right up there on the list. Sure, the savannahs were teeming with things that wanted to make lunch out of you, but to see a streak of searing blue-white light emerge from a cloud to smite a tree out of existence must have been a source of dread to everyone. Even now, knowing much more about how lightning happens and how to protect ourselves from it, it’s still pretty scary stuff to be around.
But for as much as we know about lightning, there are plenty of unanswered questions about its nature. To get to the bottom of this, Greg Leyh wants to build a lightning machine of gargantuan proportions: a pair of 120 foot (36 m) tall Tesla towers. Each 10-story tower will generate 8.8 million volts and recreate the conditions inside storm clouds. It’s an ambitious goal, but Greg and his team at Lightning on Demand have already built and demonstrated a 1/3-scale prototype Tesla tower, which is impressively powerful in its own right.
As you can imagine, there are a ton of engineering details that have to be addressed to make a Tesla tower work, not to mention the fascinating physics going on inside a machine like this. Greg will stop by the Hack Chat to answer our questions about the physics of lightning, as well as the engineering needed to harness these forces and call the lightning down from the sky.
Our Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, March 31 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have you tied up, we have a handy time zone converter.
Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.
Continue reading “Physics Of Lightning Hack Chat”
Perhaps it’s just one of those things adults dream up to entertain their children, but were you ever told to count slowly the time between seeing a lightning flash and hearing the rumble of thunder? The idea was that the count would tell you how far away the storm was, but from a grown-up perspective the calibration accuracy of a child saying “one… two…three…” in miles seems highly suspect. It’s a valid technique though, and it can be used to monitor thunderstorms by the radio emissions created through the electrical discharge. It’s an area the SAGE project has been working in, and they’ve posted some details including a fascinating run-down of the software techniques , on how lightning can be detected with an RTL-SDR.
A lightning strike produces a characteristic wideband burst that shows up in the time domain as a maximum point that can easily be detected but could also be confused with radio interference from another source. Thus after identifying maxima they zoom in and perform a Fourier transform to spot the wideband burst. It’s all done in Python, and the pleasant surprise is how straightforward to understand it all is.
SAGE are working on a distributed sensor network, so we hope this work might one day give us real-time open lightning data. The FFT approach should ensure that it won’t be fooled by false positives as a traditional detector might be.
Generating high voltages isn’t too hard. A decent transformer will easily get you into the 100s of kilovolts, provided you’re a power company and have access to millions of dollars and a substation to put it. If you want to go above that then things start getting difficult, and most tend to look in other places for high voltages such as voltage multipliers.
These devices use nothing but capacitors and diodes, as [Jay] from [Plasma Channel] shows us how to build a small desktop version of a voltage multiplier that can produce almost 70 kV. That’s enough to throw a substantial spark, powered by nothing but a rechargable battery found in an electric lighter. They can also be cheaper than transformers to a point, since they require less insulation and less copper and iron. The voltage multiplier works in stages, with each stage boosting the voltage to a critical level above the stage before it similar to a Marx generator.
Similar designs are used by laboratories to simulate lightning strikes, and can generate millions of volts. They’re a cost-effective way of generating huge voltage pulses and studying everything from the effects of lightning on various equipment to generating X-rays in fusion power tests. We’ve even seen them in use in lasers.
Continue reading “Lightning Generator From Electric Lighter”
How quickly would you say yes to being granted the power to control lightning? Ok, since that has hitherto been impossible, what about the lesser power of detecting and tweeting any nearby lightning strikes?
Tingling at the possibility of connecting with lightning’s awesome power in one shape or another, [Hexalyse] combined AMS’s lightning sensor chip with a Raspberry Pi and a whipped up a spot of Python code to tweet the approach of a potential storm. Trusting the chip to correctly calculate strike data, [Hexalyse]’s detector only tweets at five minute intervals — because nobody likes a spambot — but waits for at least five strikes in a given time frame before announcing that a storm’s-a-brewing. Each tweet announces lightning strike energy, distance from the chip, and number of strikes since the last update. If there haven’t been any nearby lightning strikes for an hour, the twitter feed announces the storm has passed.
It just so happened that as [Hexalyse] finished up their project, a thunderstorm bore down on their town of Toulouse, France putting their project to the test — to positive success. Check out the detector’s tweets (in French).
We recently featured another type of lightning detector that auto-deploys a lightning rod once a storm arrives!
One of the driving principles of a lot of the projects we see is simplicity. Whether that’s a specific design goal or a result of having limited parts to work with, it often results in projects that are innovative solutions to problems. As far as simplicity goes, however, the latest project from [153armstrong] takes the cake. The build is able to detect lightning using a single piece of equipment that is almost guaranteed to be within a few feet of anyone reading this article.
The part in question is a simple, unmodified headphone jack. Since lightning is so powerful and produces radio waves in many detectable ranges, it doesn’t take much to detecting a strike within a few kilometers. Besides the headphone jack, a computer with an audio recording program is also required to gather data. (Audio is often used as a stand-in for storing other types of data; in this case, RF information.) [153armstrong] uses a gas torch igniter as a stand-in for a lightning strike, but the RF generated is similar enough to test this proof-of-concept. The video of their tests is after the break.
Audacity is a great tool for processing audio, or for that matter any other data that you happen to be gathering using a sound card. It’s open source and fairly powerful. As far as lightning goes, however, it’s possible to dive far down the rabbit hole. Detecting lightning is one thing, but locating it requires a larger number of weather stations.
Continue reading “Detect Lightning Strikes With Audio Equipment”