Aurora-Chasing Citizen Scientists Bring Us a Step Closer to Solving the STEVE Mystery

STEVE Little Kenosee Lake, Saskatchewan, Canada

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Taken July 17, 2018, at Little Kenosee Lake, Saskatchewan, Canada, this picture reveals the small green streaks listed below STEVE. Neil Zeller, professional photographer and co-author on the paper, commented “STEVE was bright and powerful for a full hour that night.” Credit: Copyright Neil Zeller

In 2018, a brand-new aurora-like discovery struck the world. From 2015 to 2016, resident researchers reported 30 circumstances of a purple ribbon in the sky, with a green picket fence structure below. Now called STEVE, or Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement, this phenomenon is still brand-new to researchers, who are working to comprehend all its information. What they do understand is that STEVE is not a typical aurora – some believe possibly it’s not an aurora at all – and a brand-new finding about the development of streaks within the structure brings researchers one action better to resolving the secret.

“Often in physics, we build our understanding then test the extreme cases or test the cases in a different environment,” Elizabeth MacDonald, an area researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, discusses. “STEVE is different than the usual aurora, but it is made of light and it is driven by the auroral system. In finding these tiny little streaks, we may be learning something fundamentally new in how green auroral light can be produced.”

These “tiny little streaks” are extremely little point-like functions within the green picket fence of STEVE. In a brand-new paper for AGU Advances, scientists share their most current findings on these points. They recommend the streaks might be moving points of light – extended in the images due to blur from the video cameras. The pointer of the streak in one image will associate completion of the tail in the next image, adding to this speculation from the researchers. However, there are still a great deal of concerns to be responded to – figuring out whether the thumbs-up is a point or certainly a line, is one additional idea to assist researchers determine what triggers thumbs-up.

“I’m not entirely sure about anything with respect to this phenomenon just yet,” Joshua Semeter, a teacher at Boston University and very first author on the paper, stated. “You have other sequences where it looks like there is a tube-shaped structure that persists from image to image and doesn’t seem to conform to a moving point source, so we’re not really sure about that yet.”


Two various angles of unique green streaks listed below a STEVE occasion on Aug. 31, 2016, near Carstairs, Alberta, Canada. Recent research study about the development of these streaks is enabling researchers to read more about this aurora-like phenomenon. Credit: Copyright Neil Zeller

STEVE as a whole is something that researchers are still working to label. Scientists tend to categorize optical functions in the sky into 2 classifications: airglow and aurora. When airglow takes place in the evening, atoms in the environment recombine and launch a few of their kept energy in the kind of light, developing brilliant swaths of color. By studying the patterns in airglow, researchers can discover more about that location of the environment, the ionosphere. To be categorized as an aurora, on the other hand, that release of light should be triggered by electron barrage. These functions are formed in a different way however likewise look various – airglow can happen throughout Earth, while auroras form in a broad ring around Earth’s magnetic poles.

“STEVE in general appears to not conform well to either one of those categories,” Semeter stated. “The emissions are coming from mechanisms that we don’t fully understand just yet.”

STEVE’s purple emissions are likely an outcome of ions moving at a supersonic speed. The green emissions appear to be associated with eddies, like the ones you may see forming in a river, moving more gradually than the other water around it. The green functions are likewise moving more gradually than the structures in the purple emissions, and researchers hypothesize they might be triggered by turbulence in the area particles – a brew of charged particles and electromagnetic field, called plasma – at these elevations.

“We know this kind of turbulence occurs. There are people who base their entire careers on studying turbulence in the ionospheric plasma formed by very rapid flows.” Semeter stated. “The evidence generally comes from radar measurements. We don’t ever have an optical signature.” Semeter recommends that when it pertains to the look of STEVE, the circulations in these circumstances are so severe, that we can really see them in the environment.

“This paper is the tip of the iceberg in this new area of these tiny little pieces of the picket fence. Something we do in physics is try to chip away to increase our understanding,” MacDonald stated. “This paper establishes the altitude range and some of the techniques we can use to identify these features, then they can be better resolved in other observations.”

To develop the elevation variety and recognize these functions, the researchers thoroughly utilized images and videos recorded by resident researchers.

“Citizen scientists are the ones who brought the STEVE phenomenon to the scientists’ attention. Their photos are typically longer time lapse than our traditional scientific observations,” MacDonald stated. “Citizen scientists don’t get into the patterns that scientists get into. They do things differently. They are free to move the camera around and take whatever exposure they want.” However, to make this brand-new discovery of the points within STEVE, professional photographers really took much shorter direct exposure photos to catch this motion.

To get those photos, resident researchers invest hours in the freezing cold, late in the evening, waiting on an aurora – or ideally STEVE – to appear. While information can suggest if an aurora will appear, signs for STEVE haven’t been recognized yet. However, the aurora chasers appear and take photos anyhow.

STEVE Neil Zeller

Citizen researchers are crucial in STEVE research study since by try out various direct exposures and angles, they can catch exposing pictures of the phenomenon that researchers do not. These pictures of STEVE were taken by resident researcher and co-author on the paper, Neil Zeller. Credit: Copyright Neil Zeller

Neil Zeller, a professional photographer and co-author on the paper, states he didn’t initially strategy to be a resident researcher. “It was just for the beauty of it,” Zeller discussed. Zeller has actually been included with the discovery of STEVE from the start. He revealed a photo he took of STEVE to MacDonald years back, triggering the very first research study into the phenomena. Now he’s a co-author on this paper.

“It’s an honor, it really is,” Zeller stated about adding to this research study. “I tend to take a step back from the scientists doing the work. I’m out there for the beauty of it and to capture these phenomena in the sky.”

This paper likewise used another important resident researcher contribution – a volunteer database of STEVE observations. Michael Hunnekuhl, another author on the paper, keeps this database and has actually added to STEVE findings in the past. Hunnekuhl observed the streaks in the photos individually of the researchers on the paper, and his in-depth record and triangulation strategies were critical in this research study.

Zeller and other resident researchers prepare to keep taking and taking a look at those photos, recording the appeal of Earth’s environment, and MacDonald, Semeter, and other researchers will keep studying them, discovering more about this brand-new phenomenon.

Reference: “The Mysterious Green Streaks Below STEVE” by Joshua Semeter, Michael Hunnekuhl, Elizabeth MacDonald, Michael Hirsch, Neil Zeller, Alexei Chernenkoff and Jun Wang, 1 October 2020, AGU Advances.
DOI: 10.1029/2020AV000183

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