The difference between thunder and lightning is that lightning is electromagnetic energy and thunder is sonic energy. Lightning actually causes thunder by rapidly heating and expanding the air around the path of the strike, explains a Library of Congress website.
Lightning is a flow of electrons between the earth and the atmosphere, and thunder is the sound made when those electrons interact with the surrounding air. When lightning strikes, it heats the surrounding air to nearly 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit in less than a second. This causes the air immediately around the path of the lightning bolt to expand to over 100 times higher than normal atmospheric pressure. This rapid expansion of air creates a pressure wave and the audible sound known as thunder.
Since thunder and lightning are two different forms of energy, they travel at predictable speeds through the same medium. Using this relationship, the distance from a given lightning strike to an observer is roughly estimated by counting the elapsed time, in seconds, between the strike and the resulting thunder. Each five-second interval that passes after a lightning strike is approximately equivalent to five miles of travel for the sound wave. Another good indicator of the distance from a given lightning strike is the volume of the accompanying thunder, as the volume of the thunder increases as lightning strikes become closer to the listener.Learn More
A bolt of lightning travels at approximately 224,000 miles per hour or approximately 3,700 miles per second. Lightning is a discharge of static electricity that has accumulated as a result of collisions between ice particles in storm clouds.Full Answer >
Thunder comes from the rapid movement of air in a lightning bolt. Due of the speed at which lightning bolts travel, the surrounding air does not have enough time to expand. This compressed air creates a shock wave similar to an explosion, causing thunder.Full Answer >
Although thunder and lightning occur at the same time, the lightning is seen before the thunder is heard because light travels at a much faster speed than sound. Sound waves can also bounce off molecules in the air, causing it to travel in different directions. This accounts for the distorted rumbling sound of distant thunder while thunder that is close by can be heard as a loud crack or booming sound.Full Answer >
In its simplest form, thunder is the result of a shockwave that breaks the sound barrier. Thunder forms as the air around a bolt of lightning becomes superheated and explodes, producing a shockwave. This shockwave travels faster than the speed of sound, which produces a sonic boom, just as a fighter jet does when it travels faster than the speed of sound.Full Answer >