While it may sound like a gimmick but it is true, you can now detect earthquakes from a balloon. Scientists now want to replicate this on Venus
When a series of severe earthquakes shook the area surrounding Ridgecrest, California in July 2019, NASA scientists had the opportunity to put their theory to the test. The main quake struck on July 4 and measured 6.4 on the Richter scale. Within days, many more significant quakes struck the area, with over 10,000 aftershocks registered over the next six weeks.
Four enormous solar-powered balloons were used in the experiment, which were meant to fly at altitudes of 18 to 24 kilometers above sea level to detect earthquakes. Instruments that measure changes in air pressure were mounted to the balloons. During earthquakes and aftershocks, the technology is used to detect sound waves that rise from beneath the surface.
According to the experts, analyzing the seismic wave activity of a rocky planet like Earth can help them learn more about how that planet formed and its current state.
Using balloons to detect earthquakes on Venus
Venus is a rocky planet as well. It is our solar system’s closest neighbor and the second-closest planet to the sun. It is similar in structure to Earth, but a little smaller. However, Venus, unlike Earth, has a very hot surface temperature and a very dense atmosphere. Because of these conditions, spacecraft have a hard time surviving in Venus’ atmosphere or on its surface.
Seismic activity on Venus has long been a topic of discussion among scientists. They want to know more about how the planet came to be in such conditions.
Among NASA’s various ventures, the researchers, from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), think they can deploy balloons like the ones tested to detect earthquakes in California on an expedition to Venus. The experiment also comprised scientists from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).
JPL and Caltech scientists have been working on this balloon-based technique since 2016. However, the significant earthquake activity in the California desert in July 2019 provided them with an excellent opportunity to put their technology to the test in the field.
How does it work?
Earthquake energy is transported into the atmosphere, resulting in sound waves. Seismic stations on the ground detect these waves. However, the JPL team stated that its balloons were able to detect earthquake-related seismic activity.
One of the balloons observed seismic sound waves seconds after ground-based detection stations verified a 4.2 magnitude aftershock. The balloon was around 4.8 kilometres above the Earth at the time.
The researchers expect that by deploying the balloons, they will be able to conduct new seismic studies on Venus, which will offer information about the planet’s interior geography. For example, they claim that this strategy could help them figure out why Venus’s surface remains hot enough to melt lead. It could also lead to the discovery of liquids on the planet, such as water or oil.
The researchers claim they’ll keep flying balloons over seismically active locations to increase their capacity to spot earthquakes across large areas from the air. They also intend to increase the number of instruments used and the number of balloons flown at the same time. This could allow them to pinpoint the location of earthquakes without relying on ground station confirmation.