– If your name is Steve, then you’ve got reason to feel a little more special now. Amateur astronomers have discovered a new type of atmospheric phenomenon and it has been named ‘Steve”.
‘Steve’ is a band of ghostly lights clearly visible from East to West, all the way from the banks of Hudson Bay to the fjords of British Columbia. What causes these ghostly lights is still a mystery.
The lights were detected by a group of amateur astronomers and scientists are now trying to determine what forces are producing the lights that move through the air at about four miles per second, with temperatures as high as 10,800 degrees Fahrenheit — as hot as the Earth’s core.
These beautiful lights were discovered by a group of Canadian amateur astronomers who enjoy photographing stunning displays of the aurora borealis, or northern lights. They formed a Facebook group called Alberta Aurora Chasers to share information about the best and brightest displays. A few years ago, some of the astronomers noticed that ‘Steve’, a strip of light appeared a bit farther south than the northern lights. It was a beautiful sight and the Alberta Aurora Chasers Facebook group started to collect photos of the Steve phenomenon.
At first, the Alberta Aurora Chasers thought they were witnessing a proton aurora, which is made of energized protons from the magnetosphere, but they were wrong. Last year, after listening to a lecture held by the aurora borealis expert and NASA scientist Elizabeth MacDonald speak at the University of Calgary, they went to a pub where they met Eric Donovan, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Calgary.
Dr. Donovan explained ‘Steve’ could not be a proton aurora because the that phenomenon is not visible to the human eye. When Dr. Donovan looked at images of ‘Steve’, he admitted he didn’t know the nature of these remarkable lights.
Not knowing the origins of the strip of lights, the phenomenon was named ‘Steve’. The idea came from a scene in the 2006 animated movie “Over the Hedge,”, in which a character arbitrarily conjures up the name Steve to describe an object he’s not sure about.
With help of ESA’s Swarm satellites, Dr. Donovans has been able to obtain data that helps determine Steve’s location, temperature and velocity, but there are still questions that remain unanswered. We don’t know why the stream exists in the first place, and what makes it so hot.
Dr. Donovan is optimistic though. In a few months, he hopes to publish a paper that will explain exactly what Steve is. Once it’s done, the phenomenon might get an official name, but as one of the of Alberta Aurora Chasers pointed out – many people will still remember those wonderful lights as – ‘Steve’.