Sky phenomenon named ‘STEVE’ showing up more; caught on camera in Canada

STEVE is being seen more often lately. Here is what has been learned about STEVE in recent times.

STEVE is a bright show in the sky, to put it simply. Originally STEVE was thought to be a form of northern lights. It has been learned that STEVE is actually not part of the northern lights, and is a sky light show all on its own.

STEVE shows itself as a purple or green stripe across the sky, caused by a fast-moving stream of hot plasma.

Mike Murray, program director and astronomer at the Delta College Planetarium, says, “Amateur astronomer Chris Tatzlaff suggests the name ‘Steve’ from the movie ‘Over the Hedge,’ the animated comedy in which characters chose that name for something unknown.” Eventually an acronym was formed from STEVE that tries to describe what is going on. STEVE now is the acronym for Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement.

In other words, Murray says STEVE is now understood to be an atmospheric phenomenon caused by superheated gases about 280 miles up. Murray notes that typical auroras occur much lower in altitude. STEVE could be a flood of high-energy electrons flowing into the ionosphere. The friction of these electrons with the atmosphere superheats the air molecules into a plasma. The electrons are likely moving at 10,000 mph to 15,000 mph.

Now skywatchers know what to look for and can catch STEVE on camera, even as far south as mid-Michigan.

Alan Dyer, astronomer at AmazingSky.com, caught STEVE from his very favorable location to view auroras and other sky phenomenon, in Alberta, Canada.

Of this photo, Alan Dyer writes, “A portrait of the infamous STEVE arc of hot flowing gas associated with an active aurora, here showing his distinctive pink color and the fleeting appearance of the green picket fence fingers that often show up hanging down from the main arc. On this night the green fingers lasted no more than two minutes. STEVE = Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement, and is a river of hot gas flowing east to west equatorward of the main aurora band. This is a tracked single image looking straight up, and framing the Summer Triangle stars at right and the Milky Way. Moonlight from the setting waxing gibbous Moon lights the sky, as does the bright aurora to the north. This is a 30-second exposure with the Canon R5 at ISO 1250 and the RF15-35mm lens at f/3.2, with the camera on a Star Adventurer Mini tracker. The focus is a little soft but the image serves to illustrate the phenomenon. The frame is part of a short time-lapse sequence.” (photo provided by Alan Dyer/amazingsky.com)Image © Alan Dyer/AmazingSky.co

Steve

Of this photo, Alan Dyer writes, “A portrait of the infamous STEVE arc of hot flowing gas associated with an active aurora, here showing his distinctive pink color and the fleeting appearance of the green picket fence fingers that often show up hanging down from the main arc. On this night the green fingers lasted no more than two minutes. STEVE = Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement, and is a river of hot gas flowing east to west equatorward of the main aurora band. STEVE appeared after the main Kp5-level aurora died down in activity to the north, typical behavior for STEVE. He was visible for only 35 to 40 minutes, again typical. This is a single untracked image looking straight up, and taking in most of the summer sky using a fish-eye lens. Moonlight from the setting waxing gibbous Moon lights the sky, as does the bright aurora to the north, visible at left. The Summer Triangle stars are at center at the zenith; Jupiter is the bright object rising at lower left in the sout heat. This is a 20-second exposure with the Canon Ra at ISO 1600 and the TTArtisan 7.5mm lens at f/2. The frame is part of a time-lapse sequence.” (Photo provided by Alan Dyer/ amazingsky.com)Image © Alan Dyer/AmazingSky.co

Dyer says he usually sees STEVE not at the end of a northern lights show, but as the activity subsides after a sub-storm.

We can see STEVE in Michigan. Dyer, even though he hails from the more northern latitude of Alberta, says the Upper Peninsula is “prime aurora country.”

STEVE has been seen, photographed and recorded in mid-Michigan at the Thumb. Mike Murray says he’s seen STEVE twice at Port Crescent State Park near Port Austin. His friend, Dr. Axel Mellinger of Central Michigan University, recorded STEVE there on May 27-28, 2017.

STEVE

STEVE on May 27-28, 2017 at Port Crescent State Park near Port Austin. (photo provided by Dr. Axel Mellinger, Central Michigan University)

Alan Dyer shares a tip if we want to have hopes of seeing STEVE. He says don’t pack your stuff up and go home after a northern lights show. STEVE may show up 30 to 45 minutes after the northern lights stop. He says most people have gone home at this point, and miss STEVE.

Dyer says STEVE is more commonly reported now because sky gazers know what to look for.

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