Meet “STEVE,” The Newest Northern Light Phenomenon You Might See In Michigan
Periodically in Michigan, you can look to the sky and see streaks of green, purple, and blue. The Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights are truly something to behold, no matter how many times you see it.
But, now there's something new in the northern night sky... and it's name is STEVE.
To the naked eye, STEVE looks like an aurora event, which happens as charged particles from the sun interact with Earth's oxygen and nitrogen molecules. This causes the gases to glow in our upper atmosphere.
However, STEVE - which stands for Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement - is different.
STEVE can be seen in areas further south than a typical aurora event in the northern hemisphere. It's described as a ribbon of pink or mauve light, and sometimes, STEVE can be seen as a "picket fence," with green columns of light passing through the ribbon.
Until recently, it was unclear as to what STEVE was, because the appearance was similar to an aurora event, but did not coincide with conditions needed for one. STEVE was discovered in 2016, and IS caused by similar conditions to an aurora - charged particles, heated up, high in the atmosphere. But still, scientists weren't sure why it was happening so far south, and why it didn't have the same "look" as an aurora event.
But, as always, science will prevail.
Scientists realized, when STEVE was on display, energized electrons were pouring into Earth's ionosphere, which is the layer of the atmosphere where atoms lose electrons due to radiation. The friction created as those particles lose their electrons, is what is causing the pink-ish glow, similar to an incandescent light bulb.
As for the "picket fence" appearance of STEVE, data revealed this is caused by waves moving through the earth's magnetosphere, into the ionosphere. This wave moves electrons out of the magnetosphere, which creates the picket-fence look.
What's even cooler is, because these "waves" happen simultaneously in the northern, and southern hemisphere, STEVE can appear in both hemispheres at the exact same time.
Sadly, it's still unclear how scientists can track when STEVE will appear, but now that they understand what's causing it, they can track patterns, and calculate a forecast for STEVE appearances.
Welcome to Earth STEVE.