Scientists Discover Mysterious New Purple Aurora, Name It Steve
Amazing things can happen when people join forces on social media. Take for example the truly awe-inspiring discovery of a new aurora feature found by citizen scientists on Facebook.
Not only did the group of aurora-watchers find the stunningly vibrant, purple, ribbon-like light stretching across the northern Canadian sky, but they also got to name it. So what did this brilliant group of humans name this spectacular atmospheric phenomenon? Steve.
The sliver of light bending toward the heavens was first documented by the Facebook group Alberta Aurora Chasers last year, according to Gizmodo. When Eric Donovan, a researcher at University of Calgary in Canada, heard about the aurora feature, he coordinated with the Facebook group to match sightings of the light with data from the European Space Agency's Swarm satellites, which measure Earth's magnetic field, and ground-based scientific cameras that monitor the sky, Space.com said.
What Donovan found using the high-tech instruments showed that Steve was actually a temperature spike of more than 5,400 degrees Fahrenheit in a spot about 186 miles above Earth’s surface, according to the Smithsonian, which then combined with a gas ribbon that was flowing west more slowly than the other gases that surrounded it.
"In 1997, we had just one all-sky imager in North America to observe the aurora borealis from the ground," Donovan said in a statement. "Back then, we would be lucky if we got one photograph a night of the aurora taken from the ground that coincides with an observation from a satellite. Now, we have many more all-sky imagers and satellite missions like Swarm, so we get more than 100 [observations] a night."
So why the name Steve? As a post on the crowdsourcing site aurorasaurus.org explained, the name is in reference to the popular children’s movie "Over the Hedge," where one of the characters isn’t sure what he is looking at and arbitrarily names it Steve. Though no true scientific name has been determined just yet, some scientists are campaigning to keep Steve, or rather S.T.E.V.E meaning “Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement.”
According to Gizmodo, Steve is an estimated 15- to 18-mile-wide arc aligning east-west that extends for potentially thousands of miles. The light emitted from Steve can last for as long as an hour, however it is rarely seen between October and February.
In a recent talk at a Swarm science meeting in Canada, Donovan told attendees that scientists could never have pinpointed Steve on their own. Now, with the group of extraordinary humans on Facebook, it became possible to find and understand the aurora phenomenon in a few weeks. "We really are in a truly new era," he said.