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New work helps to codify the cause and properties of "Steve," an aurora-like phenomenon documented by citizen scientists as it streaked across the sky in western Canada.
As of a new paper's release today (March 14), the phenomenon has been dubbed STEVE, a backronym that matches the name originally given by aurora watchers. (STEVE is short for "Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement.") According to the new work, the distinctive ribbon of purple light with green accents — which can occur at lower latitudes than normal auroras do — gives scientists a glimpse into the interactions of Earth's magnetic field and upper atmosphere.
Researchers - STEVE - Members - Facebook - Group
Researchers first became aware of STEVE after members of a Facebook group called the Alberta Aurora Chasers (which refers to the province in western Canada) began posting photos of unusual purplish-greenish streaks oriented nearly vertically in the sky. Scientist collaborators coordinated with the aurora chasers to combine the dates and times of the phenomenon's appearance with data from the European Space Agency's Swarm satellites, which precisely measure variation in Earth's magnetic field, to work out what conditions caused the phenomenon.
The better-known auroras — also referred to as the northern and southern lights — form when Earth's magnetic field guides charged particles propelled from the sun around the planet and toward the upper atmosphere at its poles. These solar particles hit neutral particles in the upper atmosphere, producing light and color visible in the night sky.
STEVE - Hand - Way
STEVE, on the other hand, seems to form a different way.
"There's an electric field in those regions that points poleward and a magnetic field that points downward, and those two together create this strong drift to the west," MacDonald said. The flow in Earth's ionosphere pulls...
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