Amateur Scientist Discovers Mysterious New Aurora in Canada and Its Name Is 'Steve'

STEVE isn't as popular or as famous as the northern or southern lights, but STEVE is still a beautiful show. This green and purple aurora appears in Alberta, Canada and scientists are starting to understand it a little better.

Aurora fans, who find, photograph and video the night-sky phenomenon, discovered the aurora and named it "Steve." After pictures and video of STEVE appeared on a Facebook group called Alberta Aurora Chasers (and users came up with a whimsical name for it), a researcher at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada contacted group-members to confirm it. The scientist cross-referenced the pictures with the European Space Agency's satellites in 2017, reports.

STEVE (Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement) and the Milky Way at Childs Lake, Manitoba, Canada. The picture is a composite of 11 images stitched together. NASA / Krista Trinder

In a study published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances, scientists proposed an official name to match the one that citizen scientists suggested. STEVE, in all-caps, signifies the newly assigned acronym: Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement.

STEVE is special because it forms in a different area than he northern and southern lights. An electric field and a magnetic field meet in the Canadian region where STEVE was found, and those fields pull solar particles westward when they come together. When those particles meet neutral particles, the particles warm up and produce light that continues to streak westward across the sky.

While northern and southern lights generate exclusively near the north and south poles, STEVE forms closer to the equator in warmer areas with a higher population, which is why people in Alberta were able to see it so clearly. STEVE may end up just as popular as the northern and southern lights if it's easier for tourists to visit it and take pictures.

Satellites and scientific inquiries are integral to discovering, documenting and understanding auroras. However, in this case, citizen scientists with online communities, on-hand cameras and a desire to share proved just as important in discovering natural phenomenon like STEVE.