Finally, when the plate has moved far enough, the edges unstick on one of the faults and there is an earthquake. While the edges of faults are stuck together, and the rest of the block is moving, the energy that would normally cause the blocks to slide past one another is being stored up. When the force of the moving blocks finally overcomes the friction of the jagged edges of the fault and it unsticks, all that stored up energy is released.
The energy radiates outward from the fault in all directions in the form of seismic waves like ripples on a pond. Earthquakes are recorded by instruments called seismographs. The recording they make is called a seismogram. When an earthquake causes the ground to shake, the base of the seismograph shakes too, but the hanging weight does not.
Instead the spring or string that it is hanging from absorbs all the movement. The difference in position between the shaking part of the seismograph and the motionless part is what is recorded. So how do they measure an earthquake? They use the seismogram recordings made on the seismographs at the surface of the earth to determine how large the earthquake was figure 5. The length of the wiggle depends on the size of the fault, and the size of the wiggle depends on the amount of slip. The size of the earthquake is called its magnitude.
The Science of Earthquakes
There is one magnitude for each earthquake. Scientists also talk about the intensity of shaking from an earthquake, and this varies depending on where you are during the earthquake. Seismograms come in handy for locating earthquakes too, and being able to see the P wave and the S wave is important. P waves are also faster than S waves, and this fact is what allows us to tell where an earthquake was. Light travels faster than sound, so during a thunderstorm you will first see the lightning and then you will hear the thunder. If you are close to the lightning, the thunder will boom right after the lightning, but if you are far away from the lightning, you can count several seconds before you hear the thunder.
The further you are from the storm, the longer it will take between the lightning and the thunder.
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P waves are like the lightning, and S waves are like the thunder. The P waves travel faster and shake the ground where you are first. Then the S waves follow and shake the ground also. If you are close to the earthquake, the P and S wave will come one right after the other, but if you are far away, there will be more time between the two.
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By looking at the amount of time between the P and S wave on a seismogram recorded on a seismograph, scientists can tell how far away the earthquake was from that location. If they draw a circle on a map around the station where the radius of the circle is the determined distance to the earthquake, they know the earthquake lies somewhere on the circle. But where? Scientists then use a method called triangulation to determine exactly where the earthquake was figure 6. Level 3. Brain Juice Focus.
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Gaze into the eye of the storm, feel the ground quake beneath your feet, and take in a nearly fully articulated mammoth fossil unearthed right here in Texas. Earth, air, and water interact in ways that produce powerful results. Check out real footage from Texas weather events, get hands-on in immersive exhibits, and explore engaging multimedia stations that will help you discover how — and why — the land and climate on planet Earth are constantly changing.
Get up close and personal with a Columbian Mammoth discovered right here in Texas, whose skeleton offers clues into the past of North Texas. Reach your hands inside a tornado simulator to feel the airflows and observe the formation of these infamous and powerful storms. Interact with steps of the water cycle — evaporation, condensation, precipitation, and collection.
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The Science of Earthquakes
All minerals are a specific combination of chemical elements. While they share many traits — some will definitely surprise you. Learn More. Experience the Museum.
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