Mysterious Ribbon of Light Called ‘STEVE’ Is a New Celestial Phenomenon

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Close to auroras, some lucky photographers captured ribbons of light that were of a different shade – purple and white. The phenomenon has been seen for decades, but scientists only started to study these lights in 2016.

The study was recently published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

So, what is STEVE, you might wonder. It seems that it is not an aurora borealis, but an entirely new phenomenon, explains a new study that analyzed a STEVE event over Eastern Canada in March 2008.

Why Do They Call It STEVE?

Initially, the name was given by the Alberta Aurora Chasers honoring the animated movie Over the Hedge. Scientists then accepted the name, and added the extended version: Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement – STEVE!

The team of researchers observed images from cameras on the ground, comparing them with data from NOAA’s Polar Orbiting Environmental Satellite 17 (POES-17) which was right over Eastern Canada at the moment when the 2008 event took place. The satellite had to measure charged particles which rain towards Earth, but when looking at the STEVE event, researchers saw no charged particles.

It Is a Skyglow, Not an Aurora

The lead author of the study and a space physicist at the University of Calgary in Canada, Bea Gallardo-Lacourt said that:

“Our main conclusion is that Steve is not an aurora. 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.”

Researchers now classified the STEVE events as a type of “skyglow,” but they have not yet figured out what causes them. At the moment, the team is trying to find out if these purple and white lights result from the particles in the ionosphere or if they come from a higher region of the atmosphere.

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Andre Blair s is the lead editor for Advocator.ca. He holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Toronto, and a Master of Science in Public Health (M.S.P.H.) from the School of Public Health, Department of Health Administration, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Andre specializes in environmental health, but writes on a variety of issues.


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