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NASA using data from Ridgecrest quakes to understand atmosphere on Venus

Posted at 5:14 AM, Jun 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-29 09:58:30-04

RIDGECREST, Calif. (KERO) — We all remember the 2019 Ridgecrest earthquakes that shook the community to its core. Now, two years later, a silver lining has been announced.

While the community was recovering from those devastating 2019 quakes in Ridgecrest NASA researchers were realizing they had a unique opportunity to make major strides for the scientific community.

Between July 4 and July 6, 2019, a sequence of powerful earthquakes rumbled near Ridgecrest, triggering more than 10,000 aftershocks over a six-week period. Seeing an opportunity, researchers from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Caltech flew instruments attached to high-altitude balloons over the region in hopes of making the first balloon-borne detection of a naturally occurring earthquake. Their goal: to test the technology for future applications at Venus, where balloons equipped with science instruments could float above the planet’s exceedingly inhospitable surface.

“If we can show that on Earth, because the signal is so much stronger on Venus, we expect that if there are quakes and volcanic eruptions on Venus, which is being hypothesized now, we are able to also pick it up on Venus,” said JPL technologist Siddharth Krishnamoorthy, principal investigator of the analysis effort.

Krishnamoorthy said the quakes in Ridgecrest presented a unique opportunity for NASA. The team was preparing this experiment expecting to head to Oklahoma. Then the 6.4 and 7.1 magnitude quakes offered the opportunity to take this experiment and try it right in their backyard.

“It was basically ringing hundreds of times a day,” he said. “So we put together this very rapid response campaign.”

What interests Krishnamoorthy the most about flying balloons on Venus is that scientists could use them to drift over regions that look like they should be seismically active based on satellite observations and find out whether they really are.

“If we drift over a hotspot, or what looks like a volcano from orbit, the balloon would be able to listen for acoustic clues to work out if it’s indeed acting like a terrestrial volcano.”

Krishnamoorthy said the atmosphere on Venus

So while the Ridgecrest tremors made history for their magnitude and devastation two years ago, one day they could be a part of an out of this world breakthrough.

“It’s like there’s all this circumstantial evidence for Venus being currently volcanically active, but no one’s ever been able to make a direct measurement,” Krishnamoorthy said. “So it would be really cool to be the first to go there and pick up an ongoing eruption on Venus and confirm it.”

The next step is for the team to head to Oklahoma this summer and repeat the experiment over more quakes in order to find patterns that they will then project them to Venus using models of the planet’s atmosphere.

NASA using data from Ridgecrest earthquakes to understand atmosphere on Venus