This Purple Light is Not an Aurora. Let’s Call It STEVE!

In the northern hemisphere, photographers and scientists have been looking at a ribbon of purple light that was previously assumed to be just a different kind of aurora. But looking so different, a group on Facebook dubbed it as “Steve.” The name honors a character in the animated movie Over the Hedge, who was afraid of a mysterious hedge and decided to call it Steve.

Scientists took he nickname and made it a backronym – and now it’s short for Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement.

Why is STEVE So Different from the Aurora Borealis?

According to the study recently published in the journal of the American Geophysical Union in Geophysical Research Letters, the celestial event has a different movement. The lead author of the study and space physicist at the University of Calgary, Bea Gallardo-Lacourt explains the difference:

“The aurora you see in the sky, at least from our our data, is moving at a certain speed, and then you have this guy moving crazy fast at lower latitudes, passing from east to west, super narrow, almost like a comet.”

The co-author of the study, Eric Donovan, who is a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Calgary said that he knew that STEVE wasn’t an aurora since he spotted it for the first time.

Compating photos from the ground-based cameras and information from satellites belonging to NASA and ESA, Donovan made a baffling discovery:

“With Steve what’s happening is we can’t find evidence of that particle precipitation, so it seems like the energy that’s causing the light is coming from somewhere else.”

What Is STEVE?

Considering that STEVE wasn’t the result of charged particles raining down to Earth, the researchers discovered that it isn’t an aurora and it is the result of a totally different phenomenon.

“Interestingly, its skyglow could be generated by a new and fundamentally different mechanism in the ionosphere,” the study concluded.

Researchers classified STEVE as being a “skyglow,” and are now working on finding out what causes the purple ribbon of light.