Citizen scientists captured images of the newly found light show
Meet STEVE, a newfound type of aurora that drapes the sky with a mauve ribbon and bedazzling green bling.
This feature of the northern lights, recently photographed and named by citizen scientists in Canada, now has a scientific explanation. The streak of color, which appears to the south of the main aurora, may be a visible version of a typically invisible process involving drifting charged particles, or ions, physicist Elizabeth MacDonald and colleagues report March 14 in Science Advances.
Measurements from ground-based cameras and a satellite that passed when STEVE was in full swing show that the luminous band was associated with a strong flow of ions in the upper atmosphere, MacDonald, of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and colleagues conclude. But the researchers can’t yet say how a glow arises from this flow.
Part of a project called Aurorasaurus (SN Online: 4/3/15), the citizen scientists initially gave the phenomenon its moniker before its association with ion drift was known. MacDonald and colleagues kept the name, but gave it a backronym: “Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement.”
We’ll just stick with STEVE.
SKY SHIMMERS A mauve and green streak, lightning the sky at Helena Lake Ranch in Canada, was captured in this video by a citizen scientist. The phenomenon is a new type of aurora, dubbed STEVE, that’s associated with the flow of charged particles in the upper atmosphere.
E.A. MacDonald et al. New science in plain sight: Citizen scientists lead to the discovery of optical structure in the upper atmosphere. Science Advances. Published online March 14, 2018. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.aaq0030.
T. Sumner. Spot the northern lights with Aurorasaurus. Science News Online, April 3, 2015.