STEVE Is A Totally New Type Of Aurora

Posted: Mar 18 2018, 4:20am CDT | by , Updated: Mar 18 2018, 4:23am CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 
STEVE is a Totally New Type of Aurora
Credit: Dave Markel Photography

The phenomenon has captured the imagination of people all over the world since its discovery

Northern and Southern lights are famous natural phenomena that occur in high altitudes and look truly captivating. Recently, researchers have discovered another stunning light. It appears similar to the Northern lights but it is characterized by purple streak of light rather than traditional green, red and blue hues. The feature is visible at lower altitudes and last for about an hour, leading researchers to believe that it is a whole new type of aurora.

The purple streak, nicknamed STEVE, has been observed many times in recent years, but the phenomenon is still a mystery. Though its underlying mechanism is not clear, researchers believe that Steve can help better understand the function of Earth's magnetic field and its interaction with charged particles in space.

“This is a light display that we can observe over thousands of kilometers from the ground,” said Liz MacDonald, a space scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “It corresponds to something happening way out in space. Gathering more data points on STEVE will help us understand more about its behavior and its influence on space weather.”

Northern light are caused by interactions between energetic particles from the Sun and the Earth's magnetic field. Researchers suggest that Steve also involves the same process and is triggered when charged particles entered the Earth’s atmosphere. However, the explanation is not definitive.

“So far, with STEVE we can’t find any evidence that there are electrons coming down,” said space physicist Eric Donovan from University of Calgary. “I think it’s probably not an aurora, certainly not a traditional aurora.”

In the latest study, researchers describe what they know so far about STEVE. They reveal that STEVE appears as a thin, distinct line rather than a diffuse glow like Northern lights. According to satellite data, Steve invovles a fast moving stream of extremely hot particles called ions. It travels along different magnetic field lines than the aurora. As STEVE appears at much lower latitudes, it is possibily created by charged particles lying closer to Earth's equator.

Most surprinsly, Steve consistently appears in the presence of auroras, meaning there is something happening in near-Earth space that leads to both an aurora and Steve.

"Steve can help us understand how the chemical and physical processes in Earth's upper atmosphere can sometimes have local noticeable effects in lower parts of Earth's atmosphere,” said MacDonald. “This provides good insight on how Earth's system works as a whole."

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.

 

 

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