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We Need Your Help to Find STEVE

Glowing in mostly purple and
green colors, a newly discovered celestial phenomenon is sparking the interest of scientists, photographers
and astronauts. The display was initially discovered by a group of citizen
scientists who took pictures of the unusual lights and playfully named them “Steve.”

When scientists got involved
and learned more about these purples and greens, they wanted to keep the name
as an homage to its initial name and citizen science discoverers. Now it is
STEVE, short for Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement.

image

Credit: ©Megan Hoffman

STEVE occurs closer to the equator than where most aurora appear – for
example, Southern Canada – in areas known as the

sub-auroral zone. Because
auroral activity in this zone is not well researched, studying STEVE will help
scientists learn about the chemical and physical processes
going on there. This helps us
paint a better picture of how Earth’s magnetic fields function and interact with
charged particles in space.
Ultimately, scientists can use this information to better
understand the space weather near Earth, which can interfere with satellites
and communications signals.

image

Want to become a
citizen scientist
and help us learn more about STEVE? You can
submit your photos to a citizen science project called Aurorasaurus, funded by
NASA and the National Science Foundation. Aurorasaurus
tracks appearances of auroras – and now STEVE – around the world through
reports and photographs submitted via a mobile app and on aurorasaurus.org.

Here are six tips
from what we have learned so far to help you spot STEVE:

1. STEVE is a very narrow arc, aligned
East-West, and extends for hundreds or thousands of miles.

image

Credit: ©Megan Hoffman 

2. STEVE mostly emits light in
purple hues. Sometimes the phenomenon is accompanied by a short-lived, rapidly
evolving green picket fence structure (example below).

image

Credit: ©Megan Hoffman 

3. STEVE can last 20 minutes to an
hour.

4. STEVE appears closer to the
equator than where normal – often green – auroras appear. It appears
approximately 5-10° further south in the Northern hemisphere. This means it
could appear overhead at latitudes similar to Calgary, Canada. The phenomenon
has been reported from the United Kingdom, Canada, Alaska, northern US states,
and New Zealand.

image

5. 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. 

6. STEVE may only appear in
certain seasons. It was not observed from October 2016 to February 2017. It
also was not seen from October 2017 to February 2018.

image

Credit: ©Megan Hoffman 

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.

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com.

Source: NASA

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We Need Your Help to Find STEVE

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