Understanding the Richter scale

What does it mean that Wednesday’s earthquake registered a 4.4?

An early morning earthquake woke many in Atlanta on Wednesday morning, registering 4.4 on the Richter scale.

But what does that mean? What is a Richter scale?

Charles F. Richter, of the California Institute of Technology, developed the scale in 1935. The Richter scale is used to rate an earthquake's magnitude — the amount of energy it released.

The Richter scale has no lower limit and no maximum, the Associated Press reports. It's a "logarithmic" scale, which means that each one-point increase on the scale represents a 10-fold increase in the magnitude of the quake.

As Scholastic.com explains: "An earthquake registering 2.0 on the Richter scale is 10 times stronger than a quake registering 1.0. A quake registering 3.0 is 10 X 10 or 100 times stronger than a quake registering 1.0 A 4.0 is 10 X 10 X 10 or 1,000 times greater than 1.0 and so on."

» 10 things to know about earthquake that rattled Georgia

» How common are earthquakes in Georgia?

Earthquake intensity

Minor: 2.5 or lower on the Richter scale. It is seldom felt, but can be recorded by a seismograph.

Light: 2.5 to 5.4. These are often felt, but usually cause only minor damage

Moderate: 5.5 to 6.0. Buildings might be slightly damaged

Strong: 6.1 to 6.9. Can cause a lot of damage

Major: 7.0 to 7.9. A major earthquake will likely cause serious damage

Great: 8.0 or higher. An earthquake of this magnitude can destroy communities near its epicenter.