What’s going on with Steve?

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STEVE, a strange ribbon of purple and green haze discovered by citizen scientists in 2016, just got even weirder.
While looking through archival data, a team of scientists discovered that the aurora-like phenomenon has a secret twin moving in the opposite direction.
The auroras also tend to last for hours, while STEVE graces the skies for a short period of time.
Upon closer inspection, STEVE was categorized as a fast-moving stream of extremely hot gas called a sub-auroral ion drift.
Scientists have always wondered if STEVE could have an eastward moving twin that would appear at dawn.
From the data, scientists were able to trace an eastward ion flow in the purple region.
As we continue to gaze at the night sky, phenomena like STEVE remind us that there’s always more to discover beyond the visible.
With each new finding, both scientists and citizen observers bring us closer to unraveling the mysteries of our amazing planet.

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The peculiar purple-green haze ribbon known as “STEVE,” which citizen scientists first noticed in 2016, has just gotten stranger. Scientists have found that the aurora-like phenomenon has a secret twin that is moving in the opposite direction while examining historical data.

The archives of the all-sky digital camera at the Ramfjordmoen Research Station in Norway contained a picture of STEVE’s long-lost sibling lounging above the Norwegian Arctic, according to a recent study published in Earth, Planets and Space.

First observed as strange purple streaks in the night sky, Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement, or STEVE, was first identified in images shared on the Aurora Chasers Facebook group. The children’s film Over the Hedge, in which a character uses the name STEVE at random to describe an object he’s unsure of, inspired the choice of the name STEVE. A later rewrite of STEVE’s name included the entire acronym.

It can show up at the same time as the northern lights, but its unique hues didn’t resemble the green, blue, and red tones typically associated with the aurora. When STEVE appears in the sky, it does so for a brief while, but the auroras typically last for hours.

Naturally intrigued, scientists started looking into the unusual aurora-like phenomenon. STEVE was identified, after more study, as a sub-auroral ion drift—a rapidly moving jet stream of incredibly hot gas.

When solar wind-hurled particles reach Earth, the planet’s magnetic field directs them toward the north and south poles, where auroras are formed. The particles cause shimmering green light to fill the night sky when they collide with atoms and molecules in the upper atmosphere.

The same process initiates STEVE, but it follows distinct magnetic field lines. It can therefore be seen at much lower latitudes. It doesn’t end there, though, because Steve is even stranger. As the stream of hot gas moves westward at dusk, an aurora-like phenomenon is visible. Researchers have long speculated as to whether STEVE had an eastward-moving twin that would emerge at daybreak.

At that point, with the assistance of citizen scientists, an international team of researchers began combing through historical data, looking through photos of auroras taken with the all-sky digital camera at Ramfjordmoen Research Station. Gabriel Arne Hofstra, a citizen scientist, discovered a STEVE-like figure in a photo taken on December 28, 2021, much like he did with STEVE.

“I have been able to help scientists discover this phenomenon and contribute to new science,” Hofstra said in a statement. It shows, in my opinion, that working with scientists, we citizens can advance our understanding of the world in which we live. “.

Just after midnight, the green aurora, which was also visible in the picture, was accompanied by STEVE’s twin, which formed an arch that was more than 600 miles across (1,000 kilometers).

Beyond just their physical similarities, the three Swarm satellites operated by the European Space Agency (ESA) were utilized to gather data on the magnetic field at the time the image of STEVE’s twin was taken. While none of the satellites crossed the arc exactly at the same time and location as seen in the all-sky image, two of them did measure the conditions in the purple area prior to, during, and following the event. Scientists were able to deduce an eastward ion flow in the purple area from the data.

Events such as STEVE serve as a reminder that there is always more to learn about the universe than meets the naked eye. With every new discovery, researchers and lay observers alike move one step closer to solving the mysteries of our incredible planet.

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