STEVE Is Not An Aurora At All

Posted: Aug 21 2018, 3:29pm CDT | by , Updated: Aug 22 2018, 10:40am CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 
STEVE is Not an Aurora at All
Credit: Ryan Sault

A new study says that mysterious streak of purple light named "STEVE" is produced by an entirely different process than northern lights.

On July 25, 2016, citizen scientists witnessed a strange ribbon of purple light in the Canadian night sky. The mysterious phenomenon was later identified as a new type of aurora borealis and named STEVE. But a recent study claims that this purple stream of light in not an aurora at all. It’s an entirely new atmospheric phenomenon that involves a different mechanism. Therefore, study authors have dubbed STEVE a kind of "skyglow" or glowing light in the night sky that has its own special way of forming.

“Our main conclusion is that STEVE is not an Aurora," said lead author Bea Gallardo-Lacourt, a space physicist at the University of Calgary in Canada. "So right now, we know very little about it. And that's the cool thing because this has been known by photographers for decades. But for the scientists, it's completely unknown.”

Auroras or northern lights occur when charged particles from the sun interact with Earth’s magnetic field and emit spectacular lights with a green, red and blue glow. Aurora's lights last hours and are visible every night depending on viewing conditions. But STEVE is primarily purple light and only visible a few times per year. It appears closer to the equator than the Aurora and vanishes after around 20 minutes.

To determine the identity of mysterious purple light, researchers analyzed a STEVE event occurring in March 2008. They used ground and satellite views of STEVE and attempted to understand what was causing this unusual light. When researchers combined those images with data from NOAA's Polar Orbiting Environmental Satellite 17 (POES-17), they observed an unexpected thing.

NOAA’s POES-17 is an instrument that measures charged particles entering the Earth’s atmosphere. The satellite just happened to be passing over the exact area of eastern Canada where the STEVE event occurred on March 28, 2008. 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. This means that STEVE is produced by an entirely different mechanism that is distinct from the auroras.

Next, researchers want to see if a stream of fast-moving ions and super-hot electrons in the ionosphere are creating STEVE or something else higher up in the atmosphere is responsible for producing this mysterious light.

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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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