How to Capture Video of a Sprite




Introduction: How to Capture Video of a Sprite

About: My name is Kevin Palivec. I'm a network engineer who lives in Texas. I love building useful stuff from scavenged parts.

This Instructable will show you how to Capture Video of a Sprite or High altitude lightning! Now, incase you're asking yourself. "what the heck is a sprite??!!!". I'll Tell you!

Sprites are very high altitude lightning phenomena. They last for a vanishingly short time and are typically Salmon or reddish in color with bluish bottoms. They occur over large thunderstorms that generate Positive cloud to ground lightning. "+CG"

They can bee seen with the naked eye if you are for enough away from bright lights at night and the thunderstorm that produces them is over 90 miles away.

Now you could stand all night outside getting eaten alive by mosquitos in the spring trying to glimpse these fleeting phenomena.


you could set up a camera and have your computer do the work for you and have a lasting image to show and baffle your friends with!

I'm going to show you how to do the latter!

Step 1:

This project Requires the following...

1 High sensitivity Low light Black and White or color Video Camera
(Black and white is cheaper and more sensitive)

1 PC with Video Capture Card

1 Software package geared towards Meteor or Astronomical Video / Motion Detection.

1 Area to aim the camera that was free of distracting things... (Moving branches and such)

Step 2: Gather Equipment. (Camera)

First you need a good low light camera.

I have two cameras in parallel. One color and one Black and White. you don't need a color cam to do this. In fact the Black and White is much better for this purpose. The rest of this Instructable will focus on the B/W camera.

The camera best suited to casual sprite capture cost wide vs lowlight ability is the SuperCircuits PC164c
The camera be found here. PC164c It costs about $114 plus shipping. This is the B/W camera I use
I'd also suggest an outdoor weather housing. You can build one yourself or purchase one. Either will work. Typically you need one because Even if it's not raining when you start a capture session. Odds are, if there's sprites. It's probably gonna rain sometime during the night.

You need the camera to be in a dark location. No street lights or porchlights if possible. Bugs flying through a light will trigger the motion recording software.

You'll need the camera to be on a tripod or some form of stable platform. If the camera moves from wind, bumps or vibrations the motion software will spend all night recording little squiggly stars.

Below you'll see a photo of my cameras and the tower they're mounted on. You don't need a tower! a simple tripod will work. I doesn't matter as long as the camera will stay pointed in on direction and not move around!

Step 3: Gather Equipment. (PC and Video Capture)

Next you need a PC with enough hard drive space, fast enough processor and video capture hardware.

I'm using a 1 ghz pc with 1 gig of ram and a 120gig hard drive. It's fast enough to do motion detection and has plenty of storage space to save the captured video.

For the video capture hardware I'm using an old hauppauge wintv pci card.

It works just fine. If you can't find one. Most USB video capture dongles will work. If windows movie maker can see it as a video device it'll work for this.

Step 4: Gather Equipment. (Software)

Next you'll need some software. Fortunately there's some that's specifically written just to do this kind of thing!

UFOCapture is a piece of software written by
Don't' let the name fool you. By UFO they actually mean Unidentified objects.. not flying saucers!

Here is a link to the Free Version. It's more than powerful enough to "catch you some sprites!"

Here is a video of some sprites I captured with this program and my first sprite camera as outlined in this Instructable so you can see what to expect from the software (note. I did edit the video to add titles and do the slow replay. the capture program won't do any of that.)

Step 5: Final Step

The final step is to set your camera up outside. Point it in the direction of a possible sprite producing storm. Connect the camera to the video card with some video cable and run it into your house.
I haven't gone into how to build a video cable. you can get them at radio shack already made.

Start your UFO Capture software and then.... go to sleep.

If the software captures anything the files will be saved as AVI files.

Step 6: Best Practices Tips

Here I'll offer some best practices for getting a good sprite recording.

#1 Make sure the camera is stable!

#2 A dark environment is a must. Sprites are very faint and any light pollution will wash them out.

#3 Protect the camera from the elements. there are some really good Instructables on how to build a free or cheap camera housing.

#4 Determine the direction a storm is moving. If it's moving towards you. Odds are the high level clouds will obscure the sky before you'll be able to see any sprites. If a storm is moving towards your location it's best to point the camera in the opposite direction from the storm. That way once the storm passes and moves away. you can capture sprites from it as it moves further on " down the road"

#5 If a storm was moving towards you.. you'll end up with ALOT of flashing sky video. the camera will record not only sprites but also lightning flashes and clouds. go through and delete anything you don't want to keep to clear out room on the drive.

#6 DEFRAG OFTEN! As you record and delete things you don't want. the drive will get fragmented. This will cause the drive to take longer to save any videos and may cause skipping of the saved video. a Defragged drive is a happy drive!!

#7 you don't just have to run this on nights when there are storms. On clear nights you'll catch meteors and Iridium Flares. these can be as interesting as sprites!

I hope you enjoy this Instructable and if there is anything that's unclear please let me know and I'll add or fix what needs to be added or fixed!
If you want to see more of the system I've set up. Check out Spritecam Website


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    5 Discussions


    3 years ago

    hello good morning

    congrats for the great images sprites

    can you tell me on send me a email with the setup you use with ufocapture for detection of sprites thx and best regards jose


    10 years ago on Step 6

    Could you use this software to capture wild life video or stills. I know they make a wildlife motion detection camera you setup in the woods and it captures pictures of animals when they come by. I just don't want to pay for it when I have all the makings for this in my closet.


    Reply 10 years ago on Step 6

    Yes you could. the free version would work for this. It will only capture video in the free version. there are however many many free motion detection sill image capture software packages out there too. If your goal is just to capture a still image try this one...
    I use it for still and timelapse image capture... it's good and best of all... it's free!


    11 years ago on Introduction

    "Cool! A real sprite! I wish I could see this great scientific encounter!!!!!!


    11 years ago on Introduction

    Let me be the first to say great science instructable!