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Starquake (astrophysics)

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Starquake (astrophysics)

A quake is the result when the substance of a planet, moon or star begins to shake, usually as the consequence of a sudden release of energy transmitted as seismic waves, and potentially with great violence.[1]

Types of quakes include:


An earthquake is a phenomenon that results from the sudden release of stored energy in the Earth's crust that creates seismic waves. At the Earth's surface, earthquakes may manifest themselves by a shaking or displacement of the ground and sometimes cause tsunamis, which may lead to loss of life and destruction of property. An earthquake is caused by tectonic plates (sections of the Earth's crust) getting stuck and putting a strain on the ground. The strain becomes so great that rocks give way and fault lines occur.


A moonquake is the lunar equivalent of an earthquake (i.e., a quake on the Moon). They were first discovered by the Apollo astronauts. Moonquakes are much weaker than the largest earthquakes, though they can last for up to an hour, due to the lack of water to dampen seismic vibrations.[2]

Information about moonquakes comes from seismometers placed on the Moon by Apollo astronauts from 1969 through 1972. The instruments placed by the Apollo 12, 14, 15 and 16 functioned perfectly until they were switched off in 1977.

According to NASA, there are at least four different kinds of moonquakes:

  • Deep moonquakes (~700┬ákm below the surface, probably tidal in origin)
  • Meteorite impact vibrations
  • Thermal moonquakes (the frigid lunar crust expands when sunlight returns after the two week lunar night)
  • Shallow moonquakes (20 or 30 kilometers below the surface)

The first three kinds of moonquakes mentioned above tend to be mild; however, shallow moonquakes can register up to 5.5 on the Richter scale. Between 1972 and 1977, twenty-eight shallow moonquakes were observed. On Earth, quakes of magnitude 4.5 and above can cause damage to buildings and other rigid structures.


A marsquake is a quake that occurs on the planet Mars. A recent study suggests that marsquakes occur every million years, and this suggestion is related to recently found evidence of Mars' tectonic boundaries. [3]


A venusquake is a quake that occurs on the planet Venus.

A venusquake may have caused a new scarp and a landslide to form. An image of the landslides was taken in November 1990 during the first flight around Venus by the Magellan spacecraft. Another image was taken on July 23, 1991 as the Magellan spacecraft revolved around Venus for the second time. Each image was twenty-four kilometers (14.4 miles) across and thirty-eight kilometers (twenty-three miles) long, and was centered at two degrees south latitude and seventy-four degrees east longitude. The pair of Magellan images shows a region in Aphrodite Terra, within a steeply sloping valley that is cut by many fractures (Faults).


Planetquake is the generic term for quakes occurring on terrestrial planets, since current observational technology cannot penetrate to the solid core of gaseous planets.


A sunquake is a quake that occurs on the Sun.

Seismic waves produced by sunquakes can shake the Sun to its very center, just as earthquakes can cause the entire Earth to shake. However, detectable sunquakes usually involve much more energy than their terrestrial counterparts.

On July 9, 1996 a sunquake was produced by an X2.6 class solar flare and its corresponding coronal mass ejection. According to researchers who reported the event in Nature, this sunquake was comparable to an earthquake of a magnitude 11.3 on the Richter scale. That represents a release of energy approximately 40,000 times greater than the devastating 1906 San Francisco earthquake, and far greater than any earthquake ever recorded. It is unclear how such a relatively modest flare could have liberated sufficient energy to generate such powerful seismic waves.[4][5]

The ESA and NASA spacecraft SOHO records sunquakes as part of its mission to study the sun.


A starquake is an astrophysical phenomenon that occurs when the crust of a neutron star undergoes a sudden adjustment, analogous to an earthquake on Earth. A paper published in 2003 in Scientific American by Kouveliotou, Duncan & Thompson[6] suggests these starquakes to be the source of the giant gamma ray flares that are produced approximately once per decade from soft gamma repeaters. Starquakes are thought to result from two different mechanisms. One is the huge stresses exerted on the surface of the neutron star produced by twists in the ultra-strong interior magnetic fields. A second cause is a result of spindown. As the neutron star loses angular momentum due to frame-dragging and by the bleeding off of energy due to it being a rotating magnetic dipole, the crust develops an enormous amount of stress. Once they exceed a certain amount, the shape adjusts itself to a shape closer to equilibrium, a perfect sphere. The actual change is believed to be on the order of micrometers or less, and occurs in less than a millionth of a second.

The largest recorded starquake was recorded on December 27, 2004, on the ultracompact stellar corpse (magnetar) SGR 1806-20. It released gamma rays equivalent to 1036 kW in intensity. This starquake occurred 50,000 light years away. Had the event occurred within a distance of ten light years from Earth, the event could have potentially triggered a mass extinction on Earth.[7]

See also


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