What is Steve? Mysterious aurora seen in Scotland

Helena Horton
Steve is a purple arc seen alongside an aurora

Stargazers in Scotland managed to spot a mysterious aurora after the mini Beast from the East cleared.

The remarkable phenomenon has been dubbed "Steve" - a Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement, which was seen during displays of the Aurora Borealis overnight.

Scientists are trying to learn more about the rare sight, and Nasa is funding a citizen science project, asking stargazers about their sightings of Steve.

Last week, Nasa asked stargazers and space enthusiasts to help with a major new project into understanding Steve.

Steve was seen along with the Aurora Borealis and could be identified because of its distinctive shape; a very narrow arc, aligned east-west, and extending for hundreds or thousands of miles.

While the Aurora Borealis is green, Steve emits light in purple hues.

All about Steve | How to spot it

It can last for up to an hour, and is sometimes seen alongside a green aurora.

Over Sunday night, Steve was spotted from the isles of Skye and Lewis.

Further sightings of Steve were reported from Oban in Argyll and Gairloch in Wester Ross.

The Aurora Borealis appeared without Steve in many parts of Scotland.

Steve has confused scientists since it was spotted in Alberta, Canada.

After viewing photographs taken by citizen scientists, astronomers from Nasa were certain it is not a proton aurora; which is usually the cause of the northern lights.

The northern lights normally occur when electrons collide with gases in the Earth’s atmosphere.

Eric Donovan, an associate professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Calgary, told The New York Times last year: "[The citizen scientists] pulled up this beautiful photograph of this thing, and I’m like, ‘I don’t know what that is, but it’s not the proton aurora.’"

The phenomenon needed a name, so they called it Steve.

The collaboration between amateur scientists and professionals has been integral in understanding Steve, which is a  visible strip of ionised gas, travelling at 6.4km (4 miles) a second.

 

By using Yahoo you agree that Yahoo and partners may use Cookies for personalisation and other purposes