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A New Type Of Northern Lights Has Been Discovered By 'Citizen Scientists'

A New Type Of Northern Lights Has Been Discovered By 'Citizen Scientists'

A new type of northern light phenomenon has been discovered with the help of amateur scientists in Canada.

The beautiful ribbon of purple, and sometimes green, light runs east to west and is distinct from the traditional northern lights - also known as the aurora borealis. Until now it was undocumented in scientific literature and very little was known about it, Metro News Canada reports.

The name for this newly documented ethereal and stunning display? Steve. No, honestly, they've called it Steve.

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Chris Ratzlaff, a Calgary photographer who co-authored a research paper on the topic, told the news outlet: "My involvement is being the goofball who named it Steve."

He told WIRED: "Steve is predominantly pink-mauve in colour, quite a bit dimmer than the aurora overall. But the aurora is a big mass of green - Steve is always a very thin, almost like a delicate structure compared to the aurora, and it reaches from horizon to horizon, and is quite often fairly brief."

Chris began researching, what is now known as Steve, four or five years ago with the Alberta Aurora Chasers - a Facebook group he moderates, which has about 16,000 members. This team, alongside scientists and researchers from NASA, have since been able to establish that is completely separate to the northern lights and have explained how it is formed.

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Dr Elizabeth Macdonald from NASA told WIRED: "Steve is the visible counterpart to a feature in the upper atmosphere called a subauroral ion drift (SAID)."

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Adding that scientists are just starting to piece together the mysteries of 'Steve', but are hoping it will be able to help explain the Earth's magnetic field.

Credit: NASA
Credit: NASA

Oh, and if you're wondering the significance of the name Steve, then the explanation is even better than anything you're thinking.

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"There's a scene in Over the Hedge, which is about a bunch of common filth animals, raccoons and squirrels and stuff," he told WIRED.

"And they encounter this huge hedge and they don't know what it is - and it scares them, and one of the squirrels says, 'Let's call it Steve! It's a pretty name'."


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NASA has since given Steve a backronym (an acronym made after the word) 'Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement', but be under no illusions, the actual phenomenon is named after a quote from a cartoon squirrel.

Featured Image Credit: NASA

Topics: Northern Lights, Nasa

Claire Reid

Claire is a journalist at LADbible who, after dossing around for a few years, went to Liverpool John Moores University. She graduated with a degree in Journalism and a whole load of debt. When not writing words in exchange for money she is usually at home watching serial killer documentaries surrounded by cats. You can contact Claire at [email protected]