Weather Lab: How lightning and thunder form

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This week’s weather lab we went through the process on how lightning and thunder forms.

Supplies for lightning experiment:

  • Aluminum pie pan or soda can
  • Small piece of wool fabric
  • Styrofoam plate
  • Pencil with new eraser
  • Thumbtack

Supplies for thunder experiment:

  • Brown paper bag

First, lightning is basically all about static electricity. Within a cloud charges will separate with negative charges on the bottom and positive charges are located at the top. These negative charges are known as electrons while the positive charges are known as protons.

The first step in the lightning experiment is to push your thumbtack through the middle portion of the aluminum pan, make sure you do this from the bottom. Once this is completed attach the eraser end of the pencil to the thumbtack.

Next, we are going to create some positive charges or protons. To do this you are going to rapidly rub the wool fabric on the bottom portion of the Styrofoam plate. You will need to do this for 30 seconds to two minutes.

Once you do this, carefully pick up the pan with the pencil handle and be sure not to touch the pan yet. The final step is to actually produce a charge. To produce this charge touch the pan with your finger. Once you do this you will feel a shock go through your finger, this will represent the lightning bolt that we see during a thunderstorm.

The atmosphere acts as an insulator, so the lightning is trying to ground out. Reason why the positive and negative charges are attracted to each other within the cloud.

For the second part of this experience we showing how thunder forms within a thunderstorm. For this all you need is a brown paper bag. First step is to blow air in the bag and then twist the end close. Once you do this quickly hit the bag with your free hand.

As lightning heats the air, the area will then expand causing the air in front to be compressed. This will cause a shock wave, similar to the boom we hear!

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