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What causes thunder?

Thunder is a loud noise associated with lightning. During a lightning flash, the air around the lightning get very hot. This causes the air to expand so quickly as to cause an explosion, creating the sound of thunder. The reason you hear thunder after you see the lightning is that sound travels a lot more slowly than light.

Around the world, many prescientific cultures created their own explanations of what caused thunder. For example, in Peru, the Incas believed that thunder and lightning were caused by the thunder god Apocatequil hurling stones with his sling. In America, the Lakota Indians believed that thunder and lightning was caused by the Thunderbird, an eagle-like bird (probably the California Condor).

The American folktale "Rip Van Winkle", by Washington Irving, mentions a Dutch story in which thunder is caused by old men in the sky playing nine-pins (a type of bowling). The sound of thunder is produced when the ball strikes the pins.

Thunder and lightning seem powerful to all of us, so it is no surprise that many cultures had gods of thunder. The best known such gods are Zeus (Greek), Jupiter (Roman) and Thor (Vikings). These gods were considered to be particularly important and powerful, and were worshipped with the type of respect normally only shown to authors of Internet books.

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