Residents in Helston, Penzance and Camborne were among those to report the quake, which struck shortly before 1am on Sunday in Mount’s Bay, close to The Lizard peninsula.
The epicentre was at a depth of 13km, with a magnitude of 2.7 on the Richter Scale, according to preliminary information, said the British Geological Survey (BGS).
A model used to gauge seismic intensity suggested the quake would cause nearby residents to feel swaying or light trembling, with the noticeable shaking of many objects.
Locals in Cornwall who reported the quake to the BGS described it as “a moderate rumbling” and “a bang and a judder, like a juggernaut had hit the house”.
One resident in Penzance described the tremor as “one big bump” in which the walls shook “like a lorry had smashed into the house”, while a resident in Constantine said they heard “what sounded like an explosion”.
Dr David Hawthorn of the BGS said it was “very common” for people to report hearing earthquakes as opposed to feeling them.
“That’s very common – it shakes things and that makes a noise,” Dr Hawthorn told BBC Cornwall. “One of the things we see very commonly is that earthquakes that occur during rush hour have much lower levels of reporting by people.
“They just assume that rumbling is a heavy goods vehicle or something falling off a shelf in the next building,” he added.
While the UK experiences around 200 to 300 earthquakes each year, only 20 or 30 are typically felt by humans, while quakes with a magnitude of 3 or greater typically occur once every two years, Dr Hawthorn said.
“So within that context, this earthquake is not unusual,” he added. “It’s also worth nothing that the distribution of earthquakes isn’t common across the UK. Generally speaking, we get more earthquakes on the west of the county – Cornwall, Wales, the west of Scotland.
“So again, within that context, just as a single earthquake this isn’t looking wildly unusual.
“It’s just, like a lot of things in geology, the ocurrence of earthquakes doesn’t really fit in with our understanding as humans. They just don’t occur frequently enough for us to get used to them.”