A beautiful new celestial phenomenon that glows purple and green is the delight of photographers and astronauts alike. The fantasy-like display has been playfully named STEVE by the group of citizen scientists who made the discovery.
Scientists have since learned more about the purples and greens, and have given it a more accurate name: strong thermal emission velocity enhancement, which can still can be shortened to STEVE.
A citizen science project called Aurorasaurus, funded by NASA and the National Science Foundation, wants the public’s help gathering photos so they can learn more about this mysterious phenomenon.
The project will track the appearance of auroras, and now STEVE, through user-submitted photographs at Aurorasaurus.org.
Research about STEVE is providing a new visual identifier to help track the chemical and physical processes going on in near-Earth space. This information can ultimately help NASA researchers better understand the space weather near Earth, which can interfere with satellites and communications signals.
If you want to help NASA out, here are some tips to help you spot this new sky sight.
- STEVE appears closer to the equator than where normal, often green auroras appear. It appears approximately 5-10 degrees farther south in the Northern Hemisphere. This means it could appear overhead at latitudes similar to Calgary, Canada.
- STEVE is a very narrow arc, aligned east-west, and extends for hundreds or thousands of miles. STEVE mostly emits light in purple hues.
- Sometimes the phenomenon is accompanied by a rapidly evolving green picket fence structure that is short-lived.
- STEVE can last 20 minutes to an hour
- STEVE has only been spotted so far in the presence of an aurora (but auroras often occur without STEVE). Scientists are investigating to learn more about how the two phenomena are connected.
- STEVE may only appear in certain seasons. It was not observed from October 2016 to February 2017. It also wasn't seen from October 2017 to February 2018.
Steve (and aurora) sightings can be reported at www.aurorasaurus.org or with the Aurorasaurus free mobile apps on Android and iOS. Anyone can sign up, receive alerts and submit reports for free.