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A new type of northern lights has been discovered

Image credit: Catalin Tapardel

Northern lights watchers have discovered a new type of northern lights, and oddly enough, they named it Steve. At first, the name Steve didn’t imply anything, it was just a name. It comes from the animated movie Over The Hedge. In the movie, the main characters were surprised by an animal unknown to them, so they called him Steve.

That’s how Steve, the new type of northern lights, got its name. Citizen scientists took a few photos of Steve and sent them to NASA. Initially, NASA scientists couldn’t explain the newly discovered aurora type, so they all decided on naming it Steve for now.

A newly named type of northern lights, called Steve, captured over Kakwa, Alberta around midnight on September 15, 2017 (Image: Catalin Tapardel)

Burcu Kosar, Research Scientist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, says NASA scientists have now turned Steve into an acronym – Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement.

Kosar says that they still don’t know how it all exactly works, and more research into the phenomenon is needed to better understand how Steve works. NASA suspects Steve might have both a magnetospheric and ionospheric origin.

Steve is a very thin, purplish arc that can almost look like a picket fence, according to Kumar. “Steve can be viewed farther south than the larger oval auroras that sweep the skyline. If a large scale aurora is visible in Canada, Steve may be briefly visible in the northern border states of the U.S., such as Michigan.” says Kumar.

Now one of NASA’s goals is to get larger numbers of citizen scientists to report northern lights, including Steve. NASA has set up a project called Aurorasaurus. At Aurorasaurus, you can see where the northern lights are predicted to be located in the near future, and actual reports of the northern lights from people around the world.

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