Northern lights are one of the most fascinating spectacles that nature can perform. They appear in the sky only in high-latitude regions. They are the beautiful result of the solar wind knocking on the magnetosphere. Thanks to its whimsical curtains of colors, aurora borealis managed to gather a large community of fans. These enthusiasts are visiting the coldest parts of Antarctic and Arctic to immortalize a glimpse of the polar lights by themselves. However, some of them have recently come upon a new light phenomenon that they began refering to as Steve.
A Facebook Group of Aurora Enthusisats Posted the First Images with the New Light Phenomenon
The latest discovery seems to be an extension of the aurora borealis. It is described as a purple stripe of light and seems like a bigger, vertical, and unicolour rainbow across the night sky. In lack of more scientific data about this latest discovery, people started to refer to this new light phenomenon as Steve on social media.
A Facebook group of northern lights enthusiasts namely Alberta Aurora Chasers posted the first pictures with the curiosity. Some members of the group believed the unusual beam of light to be a proton arc. This is the result of protons and not electrons that affect the atmosphere of the Earth. However, Professor Eric Donovan at the University of Calgary begs to differ.
The academic figure was recently introduced to the Facebook group after some of its members attended one of his recent talks. Eric Donovan was intrigued about the pictures. However, he was aware that proton arcs are not powerful enough to become visible in the sky. This is why he started to document the new light phenomenon and understand its origins.
Swarm Satellites Managed to Identify the Odd Natural Event
The professor started a little research activity by consulting data collected by the European Space Agency through its Swarm mission. He managed to match the social media image with one of the captures of a Swarm satellite. It appears that Steve is nothing like Northern Lights. This is because the phenomenon is not caused by solar particles that interact with the magnetic field. Instead, it is a compact stream of hot gas that flows fast through the upper atmosphere.
Moreover, the European Space Agency appointed a field instrument to find out more about Steve. It turns out that the stream of gas has a higher velocity and air temperature on the inside than on the outside. The phenomenon is 25.5 miles wide and travels at a faster speed than air. However, scientists discovered that such natural events happen all the time. Even though it is a common phenomenon, the latest discovery underscores the importance of transparent data and science enthusiasts who contribute to the world’s body of knowledge.
Image source: 1