Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.
What Is a Seismograph?
Did you ever throw a pebble in the water and watch as small waves spread out from where the pebble landed? When an earthquake hits, it sends out waves as well. Waves from an earthquake are called seismic waves. Unlike waves in the water, seismic waves travel through the ground, causing the earth to shake.
Scientists can measure and record the seismic waves made by an earthquake using an instrument called a seismograph.
The word seismograph is the combination of two words. Seismos is a Greek word that means 'shaking,' and a graph is a way of recording something. So, 'seismograph' means a machine that records shaking.
The basic structure of a seismograph is pretty simple. A seismograph includes a base and a heavy weight hanging above it. The base has a rotating drum of paper, and the weight has a pen hanging down from it. When the earth shakes, the base shakes too, but the hanging weight and pen do not. The pen makes marks on the paper that record the shaking. This paper record is called a seismogram.
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A scientist can learn a lot of things about an earthquake by studying the markings on the seismogram. For example, they can tell how big the earthquake is. Did you ever hear of the Richter scale? It's a scale that scientists use to explain how strong an earthquake is. It's kind of like getting a grade in school, except instead of A, B, or C, the Richter scale uses numbers, like 5.0, 6.0, or 7.0.
A seismograph also tells scientists when and where the earthquake started. Earthquakes start underground, but we feel them on the surface. The place above ground that the earthquake strikes is called the epicenter. The epicenter usually has the most damage from the earthquake.
It's hard to predict when and where an earthquake is going to happen. But, by using a seismograph to gather information about earthquakes, maybe a future scientist will figure out how to do it. Maybe that future scientist will be you!
Okay, let's review what we've learned.
When an earthquake hits, it sends out seismic waves, which are waves that travel through the ground, causing the earth to shake. Scientists can measure and record the seismic waves made by an earthquake using an instrument called a seismograph. A seismograph allows scientists to learn things about an earthquake, including when it happened, where it started, and how strong it was. An earthquake's strength is recorded using the Richter scale.
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Seismograph Lesson for Kids: Definition & Uses
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