Muscat Daily - - BREAK -

For the past three years, mem­bers of a Face­book group called the Al­berta Aurora Chasers, con­sist­ing of pho­tog­ra­phers who ex­change tips and im­ages of the famed north­ern lights, have been cap­tur­ing im­ages of a gor­geous arc of light across the sky. The arc can be seen streak­ing across the north­ern sky typ­i­cally in mid-lat­i­tude lo­ca­tion like Cal­gary or Ed­mon­ton. It has a dis­tinc­tive pur­plish or green­ish colour and some­times looks braided like a he­lix.

The group ini­tially mis­took the glow­ing rib­bon of pur­ple and green light as an air­plane con­trail. It was only when ex­per­i­ment­ing with their cam­era set­tings, like slow shut­ter speeds and photo edit­ing soft­ware to im­prove the colour sat­u­ra­tion did they re­alise that the arc of light was self il­lu­mi­nated, un­like con­den­sa­tion trails from air­planes that are lit from light sources on the ground.

For a while, the Al­berta Aurora Chasers as­sumed it was a pro­ton aurora, a rare kind of aurora caused by en­er­gised pro­tons, as op­posed to elec­trons, tear­ing through the earth’s mag­ne­to­sphere. Then last year, some of the group mem­bers went to the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­gary to meet as­tron­omy pro­fes­sor Eric Dono­van and showed him the im­ages. Dono­van in­stantly recog­nised that what he was look­ing wasn’t a pro­ton arc, but he couldn’t tell what it was.

Af­ter they met up with Dono­van, Chris Rat­zlaff, a pho­tog­ra­pher and weather en­thu­si­ast and the Face­book group’s ad­min, posted a mes­sage on the Face­book group sug­gest­ing they call it ‘Steve’. The name comes from a scene in the an­i­ma­tion movie ‘ Over the Hedge’ where all the an­i­mals stare at a fright­en­ingly huge hedge not know­ing what it was and be­gin to feel con­cerned un­til one of the an­i­mals, a squir­rel, says ‘Let’s call it Steve’, and every­one feels bet­ter.

A sur­pris­ing as­pect of Steve is that it’s re­mark­ably com­mon, but it hadn’t been no­ticed un­til now.

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