Rare (or deaf) is the person who’s never heard thunder. It’s such a common occurrence that there are storms named after the phenomenon, even though said storms do not necessarily produce thunder. It’s synonymous with “loud” and, somehow, frequently gets top billing over lightning, even though lightning always comes first. Most people are aware that lightning causes thunder, but how, exactly?
Here Comes the BOOM
This incredibly simple—and fun—Demo Science science demo will help you explain to kids (or whoever) how lightning leads to thunder. It requires but one supply: either a good-sized balloon or a paper bag suitable for packing a lunch in. Technically, it requires two hands, as well, but you’ve probably got those at your disposal already. For the sake of writing simplicity, from here on out we’ll say you chose to use a balloon.
Blow up the balloon, nice and big, and tie it off, as you do. But your big meathooks on it, one on top and one on bottom—as most balloons are more or less round, feel free to determine “top” and “bottom” as you see fit. Then, just squeeze the sucker until it pops. There’s your DIY thunder!
If you’re really feeling charitable, you can hand out balloons to every kid in class and let them get in on the popping action. You know darn well they want to! Let ‘em have some fun once in a while, you old stick in the mud, you. Come on, man…
If Lightning Causes Thunder, Shouldn’t We Call You “Lightning Hands”?
Listen, wise guy, if you want to get that deep into the semantics of the English language and/or complain about how we write, maybe you should just start your own science blog.
The sound balloons make when they pop is not, in fact, the sound of the balloon itself popping. Rather, it’s the sound of the air inside rapidly expanding as it escapes the confines of its rubbery prison. This explains why bigger balloons cause bigger pops: the material is (more or less) the same, so the size of the balloon has nothing to do with it—it’s the quantity of expanding air that is released that accounts for the increase in volume.
Thunder is caused when lightning strikes, well, anything. Lightning bolts instantly heat the surrounding air to extremely high temperatures. This extreme heat causes the air to expand, and, as lightning bolts hit a lot of air, all that expansion results in a mighty rumble of thunder.