Strange phenomena appeared in the skies over the UK on Sunday
Strange phenomena appeared in the skies of the United Kingdom on Sunday evening. Known as “STEVE,” this spectacle often accompanies the aurora borealis.
The lights, which were only recently identified, are referred to as Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement (STEVE), a phenomenon similar to their more famous cousins the Northern Lights and the Australian Aurora, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said.
In fact, according to SpaceWeather.com, “STEVE is a recent discovery. It looks like an aurora, but it’s not. The soft purple glow is caused by hot (5,400°F) rivers of gas flowing through Earth’s magnetosphere at speeds exceeding 13,000°F.” mph. These rivers are activated by strong geomagnetic storms like the one that occurred over the weekend.
While the colorful lights of the aurora borealis normally ripple horizontally across the sky, STEVE forms a distinct purple or green vertical line, according to Space.com.
Steve’s phenomena were rarely documented before the explosion of smartphone cameras and social media, said Eric Donovan, an astronomer at the University of Calgary.
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‘Absolutely astonished. …It was Steve!
“To our absolute astonishment, we observed an amazing phenomenon,” Martin McKenna of Swatragh, Northern Ireland, said on SpaceWeather.com. “It was Steve!”
That image can be seen at the top of this page.
“We were blown away by the intensity of the purple beam,” McKenna continued. “We can see it clearly with the naked eye, swelling and flashing brightly with tiny structures like those seen inside a feather. My colleague Connor likened it to a celestial funnel cloud or tornado that changes shape in real time.”
Another photographer, Will Cheung, from Whitley Bay, England, also captured the unusual scene on Sunday night.
“It went on for more than an hour,” Cheung marveled. “The powerful aurora danced to the north as Steve streamed across the sky to the south.”
Steve is a “back name”
STEVE is a ‘back-name’, where words are matched to an abbreviation already in use.
Steve’s name originally came from a Facebook group in mid-2010, which decided to come up with a name for a mysterious sky feature. It’s a reference to the children’s film Over the Hedge, where characters use the name to refer to something they’re not sure about, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Scientists later called STEVE the impractical “Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement.”
2024 could be a good year for the aurora, and maybe for Steve, too
The solar forces that produce the aurora are expected to peak next year and at a more intense level than previously thought, forecasters from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Space Weather Prediction Center announced in October.
For centuries, the aurora borealis, also known as the northern lights, have fascinated people. It is formed when particles of electrons and protons coming from space collide with the Earth’s magnetic field. The particles then interact with atmospheric gas molecules to create the famous glowing red and green colors of the aurora.
The lights are visible in the extreme northern and southern parts of the world. The southern lights are known as the aurora australis.
While aurorae are caused by electrons and protons, the aurora borealis, first officially identified in 2018, are caused by ribbons of hot gases.
According to the Washington Post, since solar activity is expected to increase over the next few years, researchers say, there may be good chances for the public to spot Steve.
Here’s the space weather forecast: Why do the feds warn about solar storms heading toward Earth?