Photographers Discover New Aurora-Like Light, Name It Steve

Published April 24, 2017
Updated May 1, 2017
Published April 24, 2017
Updated May 1, 2017

The celestial gas streaks inspired only the most delicate of names: Steve.


While there are many challenges for those who decide to creep up latitudinal lines toward the poles — such as colder temperatures and generally shorter days — one real perk awaits: the ability to see the aurora borealis.

The glimmering solar winds have inspired numerous painters, poets, and photographers alike to capture their prismatic form. Upon glimpsing the striking streaks of gas, some will go so far as to give the winds a human name. So just what sort of name would you give the ethereal, technicolor lights?

Steve, apparently.

On Sunday, the BBC reported that a group of night sky watchers discovered a new type of Northern Light while scanning photos on Facebook.

Eric Donovan, the Calgary, Canada-based man looking at the photos, observed an arc that he had never seen before. He then, some reports say, proceeded to name the 15.5-mile-wide streak of purple “Steve,” in tribute to a 2006 kid’s film “Over the Hedge.” In that movie, characters give the name “Steve” to a creature they have just discovered.

Soon enough, the European Space Agency (ESA) wanted to know more about Steve, too. Thus the ESA shot some electric field instruments nearly 200 miles above Earth’s surface and discovered that Steve was really, really hot. Indeed, the air inside Steve was nearly 6,000 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the air outside of Steve.

While the ESA has since said that relatively little else is known about Steve, a representative did take the time to highlight the value of citizen science.

“It is amazing how a beautiful natural phenomenon, seen by observant citizens, can trigger scientists’ curiosity,” ESA representative Roger Haagmans said.

“It turns out that Steve is actually remarkably common, but we hadn’t noticed it before. “It’s thanks to ground-based observations, satellites, today’s explosion of access to data and an army of citizen scientists joining forces to document it.”

For more otherworldly glimpses of our Earth and its features, check out our favorite photos from Scott Kelly, the American astronaut recently on the International Space Station.

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