Scientists discover a new kind of light in the sky and call it ‘Steve’

Ross McGuinness

A team of aurora scientists have discovered a new kind of light in the sky – and called it ‘Steve’.

The phenomenon was spotted by the University of Calgary’s Eric Donovan, who noticed it in photographs that had been posted on a Facebook page.

The Facebook group had described it as a proton arc, but Professor Donovan knew proton auroras aren’t visible.

However, he did not recognise the night light as a catalogue phenomenon.

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The European Space Agency (ESA) measured the light 300km above the surface of the Earth using electric field instruments.

It found the temperature inside the gas stream was 3,000C hotter than outside it.

A photo of Steve was posted on a Facebook group (Picture: ESA)

The gas in the 25km-wide phenomenon was flowing 600 times faster than the air on either side.

Scientists believe the light isn’t an aurora as it does not stem from the interaction of solar particles with the Earth’s magnetic field.

It has been reported that the group named it Steve in tribute to animated 2006 movie Over the Hedge, in which characters give the name to something they have not seen before.

Steve was examined by the ESA’s magnetic field Swarm mission.

Professor Donovan said: ‘It turns out that Steve is actually remarkably common, but we hadn’t noticed it before.

‘It’s thanks to ground-based observations, satellites, today’s explosion of access to data and an army of citizen scientists joining forces to document it.

‘Swarm allows us to measure it and I’m sure will continue to help resolve some unanswered questions.”

ESA’s Swarm mission scientist, Roger Haagmans, said: ‘It is amazing how a beautiful natural phenomenon, seen by observant citizens, can trigger scientists’ curiosity.

‘The ground network and the electric and magnetic field measurements made by Swarm are great tools that can be used to better understand Steve. This is a nice example of society for science.’

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