- Amateur photographers who show light for decades
- Scientists only discovered it last year
- Confirmed STEVE was no aurora, perhaps a "whole new heavenly phenomenon"
A spectacular beam of light that burns through the air in an arc of 3000 ° C, which became famous around April last year, could be a completely new celestial phenomenon.
The light show had been recorded by amateur photographers for decades.
In the Facebook era they called the thin ribbons of purple and white light "STEVE", to the urban hedge that got the same name from forest animals in the movie "Over the Hedge".
More specifically, a group called the Alberta Aurora Chasers had occasionally noticed the bright, thin streams of white and purple light running from east to west in the Canadian night sky.
The difference between STEVE and an ordinary aurora was that STEVE was visible only a few times a year and closer to the equator than the aurora, which can be seen at any time of the year if all the right conditions are met in the ionosphere of the Earth. .
University of Calgary professor Eric Donovan hosted a lecture for the group when he saw a photo of STEVE taken by one member.
He kept in touch with the group, waiting for a moment when a STEVE observation coincided with the viaduct of one of the three satellites of the European Space Agency.
Donovan said that only twenty years ago in North America there was only one sky imager that could be coordinated with observations.
"At that time we would be lucky if we had a one-night photo of the aurora from the ground that coincides with an observation of a satellite," he said.
Nowadays there are more than 100 of these chances at night and when a Swarm satellite was in the right place at the right time, STEVE was registered as responsible for the temperature of 300 km above the earth with 3000 ° C jump .
"The data showed that a ribbon of 25 km wide gas flows to the west at about 6 km / s compared to a speed of about 10 m / sec on each side of the ribbon," said Donovan.
STEVE became a celebrity and hundreds of images are now focused on it. Most of them call it an "aurora" or a "new type of aurora".
But when it was originally famous, the Aurora Australis Tasmania group, which has been cutting the phenomenon for years, said it preferred to call STEVE a "proton arch".
It usually appeared in a solar storm view, "when the event diminishes," said Margaret Sonnemann, author of The Aurora Chaser's manual.
The scientists came to the case. In March of this year, a team found a stream of rapidly moving ions and super hot electrons running through the ionosphere exactly where STEVE was observed.
The researchers suspected that these particles were in some way connected to STEVE, but were not sure if they were responsible for their production.
A follow-up study coordinates ground-based STEVE images with data from NOAA's Polar Orbiting Environmental Satellite 17, which can measure charged particles that precipitate in the ionosphere – the process that causes aurora to appear.
And the POES-17 satellite did not detect charged particles that rained to the ionosphere during the STEVE event.
STEVE is absolutely no aurora. Nobody knows what STEVE is.
"So at the moment we know very little about it, and that's nice, because this has been known to photographers for decades," says Bea Gallardo-Lacourt, a space physicist at the University of Calgary in Canada and lead author of the new study .
"But for the scientists it is completely unknown."
The results of the study suggest that STEVE is a completely new phenomenon. For the time being, scientists just call it "skyglow".
Here is a video from NASA that shows how STEVE is formed:
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