A new mysterious phenomenon has been discovered recently thanks to social media and the power of citizen scientists chasing the northern lights.
Nobody knew what this strange giant purple streak of light in the night sky was… So it was called Steve.
ESA’s Swarm magnetic field mission has now also met Steve and is helping to understand the nature of this new-found feature. Flying through the new phenomenon , the temperature 300 km (186 miles) above Earth’s surface jumped by 3 000 °C (5 432 °F) and the data revealed a 25 km (15 miles) wide ribbon of gas flowing westward at about 6 km/s compared to a speed of about 10 m/s at either side of the ribbon.
This strange feature was originally thought to be a ‘proton arc.’
How Steve was unexpectedly detected
Prof. Donovan from the University of Calgary met with members of Alberta Aurora Chasers. Looking at their photographs, he came across something he hadn’t seen before. The group called this strange purple streak of light in the night sky captured in their photographs a ‘proton arc’ but for a number of reasons, including the fact that proton aurora are never visible, Donovan knew this had to be something else. However, nobody knew what it actually was so they decided to put a name to this mystery feature: they called it Steve.
It turns out that Steve is actually remarkably common, but we hadn’t noticed it before. It is amazing how a beautiful natural phenomenon, seen by observant citizens, can trigger scientists’ curiosity.