Alberta Aurora Chasers Discover A New Night Sky Aurora Called 'Steve'
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Alberta Aurora Chasers Discover A New Night Sky Aurora Called 'Steve'

Up in the sky, look: It's a bird. It's a plane. It's ... Steve?

Such is the name being given to a newly-discovered night sky phenomenon, and Alberta citizen photographers are being given credit for the discovery.

In photos, "Steve" shows up as a bright purple-pink streak across the sky — a light that would often appear in photos posted to the Alberta Aurora Chasers Facebook page.


A data-gathering satellite that flew through Steve reported some very interesting findings. (Photo: Dave Markel Photography)



Group administrator Chris Ratzlaff told The Huffington Post Canada the group's photographers began to notice Steve a few years ago, but it wasn't until a talk at the University of Calgary in February 2015 that the scientific community took interest.

Ratzlaff said the group's members approached U of C physicist Eric Donovan and NASA's Elizabeth MacDonald, who works with the agency's citizen aurora project, Aurorasaurus, with some photos of Steve.

Remember #STEVE the #Aurora ? Well, he's back in our most recent blog post telling you 7 things to know about Steve! https://t.co/wx6rR4sbfV

— Aurorasaurus (@TweetAurora) March 14, 2017




The group was pretty convinced they had photos of a phenomenon called a proton arc, but Donovan didn't agree.

@ScottWx_TWN @SPACEdotcom Collaboration between Alberta Aurora Chasers, Eric Donovan and @TweetAurora has helped prove that Steve isn't a proton arc /2

— Chris Ratzlaff (@ratzlaff) April 24, 2017




Instead, Donovan began cross-referencing the locations and times of the photographers' photos with information collected by the European Space Agency's (ESA) Swarm mission.

He waited until one of Swarm's satellites flew directly though Steve and noted some big changes.

"The temperature 300 kilometres above Earth’s surface jumped by 3000 C and the data revealed a 25 kilometre-wide ribbon of gas flowing westwards at about 6 kilometres/second compared to a speed of about 10 metres/second either side of the ribbon," he noted in an ESA press release.

According to NASA's Aurorasaurus blog, here's what you need to know about Steve. Story continues below:



Donovan, however, remains coy about what causes the phenomenon — he told Gizmodo the world will have to wait for his theory, which will be published "shortly."

However, he said Steve has been hiding in plain sight for quite some time.

“It turns out that Steve is actually remarkably common, but we hadn’t noticed it before. It’s thanks to ground-based observations, satellites, today’s explosion of access to data and an army of citizen scientists joining forces to document it," he noted to the ESA.

As for Steve's name — it was originally given by the Alberta Aurora Chasers group, as a reference to the popular children’s movie "Over the Hedge," where one of the characters isn’t sure what he is looking at and randomly names the object Steve.


Steve is captured on July 29, 2016, near Kakwa, Alta. (Photo: Catalin Tapardel)

But now there's a push to turn the name into an acronym meaning "Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement."

As far as your chance of seeing Steve with the naked eye, Ratzlaff says it's possible but reminds casual stargazers that most photos of Steve have been heavily processed and that it doesn't usually appear so brightly to the naked eye.

To see footage of Steve in action, check out NASA's video above.

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