Eerie Skyglow Called 'Steve' Isn't an Aurora, Is 'Completely Unknown' to Science

With typical internet logic, they chose to name the phenomenon "Steve" after a joke in the cartoon movie Over the Hedge(luckily they didn't choose Aurora McAuroraface). Narrow ribbons of purple and white light that occasionally materialize in the night sky were tagged a contemporary kind of aurora when brought to light of the scientists in 2016. The latter also gets much closer to the equator. STEVE shines in thin ribbons of purple, rather than in red, green, or yellow curtains, as is the case of typical auroras.

Initially, the photographers thought the light ribbons were the result of excited protons, but these fall outside the range of wavelengths that normal cameras can see and require special equipment to image. According to a new study, STEVE is not an aurora at all, but an entirely new celestial phenomenon.

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

NASA scientists are also getting in on the act, claiming "Steve" can also stand for "Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement".

Amateur photographers have been capturing STEVE for decades but it only in the past few years that serious scientific analysis has been made.

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"Right now, we know very little about it", Bea Gallardo-Lacourt, a space physicist at the University of Calgary in Canada and lead author of the study, said in a statement.

A citizen science project funded by NASA and the National Science Foundation called Aurorasaurus has been gathering photos and reports on Steve to learn exactly what is causing the phenomenon.

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. And that's the cool thing, because this has been known by photographers for decades. If STEVE was formed in the same way as a traditional aurora, the researchers hypothesized, the satellite data should record an uptick in the number of charged particles-like electrons or ions-when STEVE was visible.

"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?" However, it is a completely unknown phenomenon for the scientists.

The study states there was no indication for any high-energy precipitation observed during the 2008 sighting of Steve and that the unusual occurrence "could be generated by a new and fundamentally different mechanism in the ionosphere". 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. Next will come further research into ions and electrons in the ionosphere, to figure out whether they're responsible for the lights or if something higher in the atmosphere is at work.

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