CUSTOM APPLICATIONS –
Public Display of Lightning Strikes (the story behind “Streetlight Storm”)
Scottish Artist Katie Paterson wanted to recreate the feeling of a lightning strike. But she didn’t want to do it in the normal theatrical way by using strobes connected to a random sequence generator. She wanted to display REAL TIME lightning strikes –
We had a look at this and immediately looked at the many types of lightning detectors available on the market. At first, they looked promising. Then we ran into a major problem –
There just wasn’t any off-
From a technical point of view we were able to pick up lightning strikes out to at least 12,000 miles from the pier installation! That was determined by looking at known lightning storms in various regions then following the times the strike intensity and frequency changed. Propagation of electrical signals is somewhat dependent on reflections and absorptions in the ionosphere with best reception during darkness. By following the earths terminator line (time of dawn or dusk) we saw increases where there were thunderstorms. Initially we were able to confirm reception of storms in Mid-
As we monitored the storms it became apparent that we also could see what looked like echos of certain lightning strikes. Lightning strikes have many features that are unique. When we see a strike with our eyes we see a single flash. In reality, there are multiple strikes –
The development of the techniques and equipment used on this project have potential uses for monitoring the environment as the climate warms. NASA maintains several satellites that look down for upper cloud flashes and there are several networks that report lightning activity. But as far as we know there is no facility for extremely long range detection. Three of more of the stations we developed could provide lightning detection and ranging information at a very low cost.
Streetlight storm has since been exhibited in London, New York and at other locations including the UK’s prestigious Royal Geographic Society. Recently, we decided to located the main receiving station near Cambridge, England in order connect to more locations. This provided the capability of having simultaneous displays in as many as 20 cities worldwide.