Who knew auroras could have names? Meet “Steve,” an unusual aurora that appears as a vertical purplish streak of light in the night sky.
This strange feature was first discovered and photographed by citizen scientists in Canada and eventually verified by the .
University of Calgary astronomer came across the image while looking at photos on the Facebook group of the . Though the group called the streak of light a “proton arc,” Donovan knew it had to be something else because proton auroras aren’t visible.
Donovan said Steve is a type of an aurora, but one only rarely documented before the explosion of smartphone cameras and social media.
“It turns out (an aurora like) Steve is actually remarkably common, but we hadn’t noticed it before,” Donovan said in a release from the European Space Agency. “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.”
While the colorful lights of an aurora normally ripple horizontally across the sky, this one forms a distinctive purplish or greenish vertical streak, according to .
However, since nobody knew what it actually was, the Facebook group decided to put a name to the mystery feature: Steve. That’s a reference to the children’s movie Over the Hedge, where the characters use the name to refer to something they weren’t sure about, according to the .
For centuries, the aurora borealis, aka the northern lights, has fascinated people. It forms when particles flowing from the sun get caught up in the Earth’s magnetic field. The particles then interact with molecules of atmospheric gases to cause the famed glowing red and green colors of the aurora.
The lights are visible in both the far northern and southern parts of the world. The southern lights are known as aurora australis.
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