Meet Steve

All About Space - - Launch Pad -

This strange shim­mer­ing rib­bon of pur­ple light, which was dis­cov­ered in 2016, is known as Steve. It’s a weird fea­ture of the aurora which has mys­ti­fied as­tronomers for quite some time, but now – thanks to the Eu­ro­pean Space Agency’s Swarm mis­sion – more is known about this strange phe­nom­e­non.

Re­searchers were first made aware of Steve when mem­bers of the Aurora Chasers Face­book group started post­ing pho­tos of un­usual streaks in the night sky. Auro­rae are made when our mag­netic field guides en­ergy and atomic par­ti­cles in the so­lar wind around Earth and to­wards the north and south poles. When these par­ti­cles crash into the atoms and mol­e­cules of the up­per at­mos­phere, waves of lu­mi­nous green light of the aurora bo­re­alis and aurora aus­tralis ap­pear.

While Steve can ap­pear at the same time as an aurora, it’s found to be quite a dif­fer­ent beast. While stan­dard auro­rae paint the sky in greens, blues and reds and can last for hours, Steve re­mains in the sky for a rel­a­tively short time.

Steve’s made through the same gen­eral process as a nor­mal aurora, trav­el­ling along dif­fer­ent mag­netic field lines and ap­pear­ing at much lower latitudes.

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