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At Live Science: ‘STEVE’ descends on North America after surprise solar storm

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 Brandon Specktor writes:

STEVE (short for “strong thermal velocity enhancement”) is a long, thin line of hot gas that slices through the sky for hundreds of miles. The hot air inside STEVE can blaze at more than 5,500 degrees Fahrenheit (3,000 degrees Celsius) and move roughly 500 times faster than the air on each side of it, satellite observations have shown.

A fish-eye-lens photo of STEVE, the mysterious purple river of light, hanging in the sky over Canada
A fish-eye-lens photo of STEVE, the mysterious purple river of light, hanging in the sky over Canada. (Image credit: Copyright 2022 Alan Dyer/AmazingSky.com )

In the dark of Sunday night and Monday morning (Aug. 7 and 8), a surprise solar storm slammed into Earth, showering our planet in a rapid stream of charged particles from the sun. The resulting clash of solar and terrestrial particles in Earth‘s atmosphere caused stunning auroras to appear at much lower latitudes than usual — and, in southern Canada, triggered a surprise cameo from the mysterious sky phenomenon known as STEVE.

The glowing river of light may look like an aurora, but it’s actually a unique phenomenon that was considered “completely unknown” to science upon its discovery. Today, scientists have a slightly better idea of what’s going on. 

Whereas the northern lights occur when charged solar particles bash into molecules in Earth’s upper atmosphere, STEVE appears much lower in the sky, in a region called the subauroral zone. That likely means solar particles aren’t directly responsible for STEVE, Live Science previously reported. However, STEVE almost always appears during solar storms like Sunday’s, showing up after the northern lights have already begun to fade.

One hypothesis suggests that STEVE is the result of a sudden burst of thermal and kinetic energy in the subauroral zone, somehow triggered by the clash of charged particles higher in the atmosphere during aurora-inducing solar storms. However, more research is needed to uncover the true secrets of STEVE. In the meantime, we can simply bask in its otherworldly glow and wave back at its twinkling green fingers.

Live Science

6 Replies to “At Live Science: ‘STEVE’ descends on North America after surprise solar storm

  1. 1
  2. 2
    Seversky says:

    Fascinating!

  3. 3
    asauber says:

    “completely unknown” to science upon its discovery.”

    That’s kind what makes for a discovery.

    Sigh. Every time I try to read PopSci I reDiscover that most of it is not worth reading.

    Andrew

  4. 4
    Belfast says:

    “ unique phenomenon that was considered “completely unknown” to science upon its discovery.”
    “ STEVE almost always appears during solar storms like Sunday’s, showing up after the northern lights have already begun to fade.”
    “ To photographers and stargazers in northern climes, Steve has been a familiar night phenomenon for decades.”
    No comment necessary.

  5. 5
    ET says:

    An interdimensional rift, reacting to the total immersion of charged particles from this dimension. Or quite possibly an active wormhole the other ETs use for traveling about, that was overwhelmed by the charged particles in the storm.

  6. 6
    Belfast says:

    @5
    Yes, I overlooked those possibilities.

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