NASA has published a new study outlining the first balloon-borne detection of an earthquake in 2019. The project is part of a technique being developed to detect quakes on Venus. Between July 4 and July 6 of 2019, California was hit by a powerful sequence of earthquakes originating near Ridgecrest, California. Those quakes resulted in more than 10,000 aftershocks over a six-week period.
NASA researchers seized the opportunity presented by the quakes to test a technique being developed to detect quakes on Venus. Researchers from the NASA JPL and Caltech flew instruments attached to high-altitude balloons over the region in hopes of making the first balloon-borne detection of naturally occurring earthquakes. The goal was to test the technology for future applications on Venus, where balloons with scientific instruments may one day float above the planet’s surface.
Scientists want to use balloons to explore Venus because the planet’s surface is extremely hot and inhospitable. On July 22, 2019, the balloons being tested on Earth were fitted with highly sensitive barometers, and one of them was able to detect the low-frequency sound waves caused by an aftershock on the ground. The team described how a similar technique could be used to reveal mysteries on Venus.
One of the major challenges to exploring Venus is that the planet has surface temperatures hot enough to melt lead and atmospheric pressures that could crush a submarine. Venus is a target for exploration because while it is inhospitable today, it is believed to have once been more hospitable before becoming the wasteland it is today. Scientists hope to learn what happened to Venus to make it so inhospitable.
One of the keys to understanding the rocky world is to study what’s inside it, and one of the best ways to do that is to measure seismic waves beneath its surface. Scientists can understand much about the Earth’s interior from analyzing seismic waves in regions as deep as the Earth’s core. They hope to make the same observations on Venus using balloon technology.