Welcome STEVE, a strange ribbon of colorful light

Aug 4, 2021, 2:00 PM
(Flickr Photo/Rocky Raybell)...
(Flickr Photo/Rocky Raybell)
(Flickr Photo/Rocky Raybell)

A new and strange atmospheric phenomenon is being seen in the skies around the world.

First observed by sky watchers in Alberta, Canada, in 2017, this strange ray of purple and blue light is often seen as a large arc or band in the night sky.

This is a new and very unique type of phenomenon that was first thought to be associated with the aurora.

Aurora are caused by charged particles from the sun which interact with the upper layers of the atmosphere and put on some amazing displays in both the northern and southern hemispheres.

The name for this new atmospheric phenomenon is known by the acronym “STEVE”, which stands for, Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement.

STEVE is thought to be a component of the ionosphere in that it resides at a height of some 280 miles above the Earth. STEVE is primarily made up of extreme hot gases which excite atoms and glow with a most amazing purple glow.

Temperatures of well over 5,000 degrees have been detected inside these bright ribbons of gas.

Aurora are usually seen in the regions of both poles of the earth, but the STEVE sightings are occurring in regions that appear at both the pole and at lower latitudes too.

The best times to make any observations of STEVE would be near a new moon in the sky. That’s when the light of the moon does not interfere with observations.

The first description of what the origin of STEVE was, came from scientists who first believed that this was a caused by a proton storm.

Scientists now believe that this is not the case and the origin of STEVE must lie with a yet unknown source driving this energy deep inside the ionosphere above the Earth.

STEVE is not to be confused with another type of faint light which is seen in the darkest of locations, airglow.

Airglow is caused by excited atoms in the Earth’s atmosphere, which can create a sort of greenish glow along the horizon. Airglow is seen in many of the video feeds that come in from the Space Station as it sails around the Earth.

It is way to early to understand the true nature of this new and amazing sight in the night sky.

So, if you look to the nigh sky over Canada on a clear and moon less night and see the amazing Northern Lights, you may be looking at STEVE, as a bright purple band of light, which is also seen in the night sky.

Here is what STEVE looks like in the night sky.

Let’s welcome our new friend, STEVE!

Here is some additional information on STEVE and what the latest research shows us.

To print your own monthly star chart, click here.

To view satellites/dates/times of passage, click here.

Listen to the Dr. Sky Show on KTAR News 92.3 FM Saturdays at 3 a.m.

The Dr. Sky podcast is here.

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Welcome STEVE, a strange ribbon of colorful light