Use VLF to detect lightning

Yesterday, my friend Ed, KD8OQG tweeeted:

vielmetti's avatarEdward Vielmetti @vielmetti
a lightning detector, picking up lightning signals on VLF (!) blitzortung.org/Documents/TOA_… @kb6nu @hoopycat #hamr

Ed is a bit of a severe weather geek, and is often Tweeting when severe weather rolls through the Ann Arbor area. So, it’s only natural that he would be interested in the Blitzortung project. The Blitzortung website describes the project this way:

Blitzortung.org is a lightning detection network for the location of electromagnetic discharges in the atmosphere (lightning discharges) based on the time of arrival (TOA) and time of group arrival (TOGA) method. It consists of several lightning receivers and one central processing server. The stations transmit their data in short time intervals over the Internet to our server. Every data sentence contains the precise time of arrival of the received lightning discharge impulse (“sferic”) and the exact geographic position of the receiver. With this information from all stations the exact positions of the discharges are computed. The aim of the project is to establish a low budget lightning location network with a high number of stations. The price for the hardware used is less than 200 Euro. The sferic positions are free accessible in raw format to all stations that transmit their data to our server. The station owner can use the raw data for all non-commercial purposes. The lightning activity of the last two hours is additionally displayed on several public maps recomputed every minute.

Blitzortung.org is a community of station operators who transmit their data to the central server, programmers who develop and/or implement algorithms for the location or visualization of sferic positions, and people who assist anyway to keep the system running. There is no restriction on membership. All people who keep the network in operation are volunteers. There is no fee and no contract. If a station stops pooling its data, the server stops providing the access to the archive of sferics positions for the user of that station. A detailed description about how to participate to the network and how to setup an own receiver can be found in the following document.

The website doesn’t say how much a setup costs, but does says, “If you are interested to setup an own station then you can get the latest printed circuit boards and the programmed micro controller from us. If you are not from Germany, Austria, or Switzerland you can even get a complete controller kit, a complete amplifier kit, ferrite rod antennas, and a GPS module for cost price, if desired.”

The Cloud is an interactive lamp and speaker system, designed to mimic a thundercloud in both appearance and entertainment. Using motion sensors the cloud detects a user's presence and creates a unique lightning and thunder show dictated by their movement.

The Cloud is an interactive lamp and speaker system, designed to mimic a thundercloud in both appearance and entertainment. Using motion sensors the cloud detects a user’s presence and creates a unique lightning and thunder show dictated by their movement.

Ryan Burns, one of Ed’s followers and head of A2 Geeks, suggested that he get a Cloud and hook it to the detector. According to the Cloud’s website, “The Cloud is an interactive lamp and speaker system, designed to mimic a thundercloud in both appearance and entertainment. Using motion sensors the cloud detects a user’s presence and creates a unique lightning and thunder show dictated by their movement.” We would, of course, have to get a version without the motion sensors so that we could interface our lightning detector.

I volunteered that we could mount the detector’s antenna to the tower at the Hands-On Museum. Ironically, I think that we’d have to use a lightning arrestor on the feedline should we actually mount it outside.