Spectacular Light Phenomenon Skyglow STEVE Not an Aurora, Say Scientists

Thus, according to the scientists, the mysterious aurora known as Steve is not an aurora, but it might be a new and yet unknown phenomenon in the ionosphere, its glow being given by a different mechanism than auroras.

STEVE-the name given to odd purple ribbons of light that seem to accompany auroras-is weirder than we thought, a new study suggests.

Aurora are usually seen in the regions of both poles of the earth, but the STEVE sightings are occurring in regions that appear at both the pole and at lower latitudes too. They had noticed bright, thin streams of white and purple light running East to West in the Canadian night sky when they photographed the aurora. Theories that the light could have been the result of excited protons fell flat, because photographers should have needed special optics in order to capture photos of them.

Researchers in the study analyzed an event involving Steve in 2008 and found the atmospheric process generating its lights is different than an aurora.

STEVE is not to be confused with another type of faint light which is seen in the darkest of locations: Airglow.

The name "Steve" was adopted from the film Over the Hedge, but when researchers presented the unusual phenomenon at a scientific conference in 2016, another scientist suggested to change it to the backronym STEVE for Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement.

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To those who live in northern areas, STEVE is a sky glow that has been visible for decades now, but it was only this year that saw the phenomenon acknowledged and written about, which was in large part due to groups like the Alberta Aurora Chasers.

"So right now, we know very little about it", Bea Gallardo-Lacourt, a space physicist and the study's lead author, said in a statement online. And that is a relaxed thing as this has been contemplated by the photographers for years.

What this ribbon lacks in girth, it makes up for in length; unlike the wavy northern lights, Steve appears to stab straight upward into the night sky, often spanning more than 600 miles (1,000 kilometers).

The team coupled the images with data from NOAA's Polar Orbiting Environmental Satellite 17 (POES-17), which happened to pass directly over the ground-based cameras during the STEVE event. However, it is a completely unknown phenomenon for the scientists.

"Probably the most important question to answer now is: if Steve is not produced by precipitating particles (like aurora), how is the structure being created?" POES-17 detected no charged particles raining down to the Earth's upper atmosphere or ionosphere during that event, a process that is typically associated with auroras or northern lights.

Why is STEVE So Different from the Aurora Borealis? In the future, the researchers plan to determine whether streams of fast ions and hot electrons in the ionosphere are creating STEVE's light, or if the light is produced higher up in the atmosphere.

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