Probably the funniest thing in the world to me is the idea of calling a small adorable animal an old man sounding name. A tiny puppy called Greg? A little kitten called Geoff? A budgie called Kevin? All of this is extremely my shit. So why not – as scientists in Canada have done – extend that to rare, breathtaking atmospheric conditions?
Thanks to the work of scientists and aurora watchers, an entirely new kind of atmospheric phenomenon has been documented, and they’ve decided to call it Steve.
Steve presents himself as a beautiful streak of purple light, as seen below:
University of Calgary associate professor Eric Donovan started researching Steve after seeing aurora watchers refer to him as a “proton arc“, which he knew to be bullshit because, as we all know (duh), proton arcs aren’t visible from Earth.
Because he had no idea what else it might be, his team launched an investigation, matching ground sightings of Steve with data recorded by the European Space Agency‘s Swam, a collection of satellites monitoring the Earth’s magnetic field.
Donovan’s findings indicated that one particular instance of Steve was a 25-kilometre wide column of gas flowing significantly faster than the gas around it and chilling out about 300 kilometres of the surface of the planet.
They also found out that Steve is hot. Real hot. The temperature within the gas flow increased by a not-insubstantial 3000 degrees Celsius.
Donovan said that Steve is actually super common, they just hadn’t been paying enough attention to him:
“It turns out that Steve is actually remarkably common, but we hadn’t noticed it before.
“It’s thanks to ground-based observations, satellites, today’s explosion of access to data and an army of citizen scientists joining forces to document it.”
Roger Haagmans from the ESA said it’s great that we can get to know Steve:
“The ground network and the electric and magnetic field measurements made by Swarm are great tools that can be used to better understand Steve. This is a nice example of society for science.”
The name Steve was chosen after a line in the 2006 animated movie ‘Over The Hedge‘, which I know for a fact I’ve seen but I can’t remember a single thing about.
You can have a look at a whole bunch of images of Steve from a whole bunch of aurora watchers right here.
Photo: ESA / Dave Markel Photography.