Strange Sky Glow 'Steve' Is No Normal Aurora, Say Scientists

The purple streak of light seen in Canada on July 25, 2016.  (Image credit: NASA)

The purple streak of light seen in Canada on July 25, 2016. (Image credit: NASA)

Researchers at the University of Calgary in Canada, and the University of California, Los Angeles, are disputing the idea that a strange purple streak seen in the night sky is simply an unusual aurora. 

Originally, the atmospheric phenomenon, nicknamed Steve, was thought to be similar in nature to the northern lights, but a new study has found that it lacks the charged particles coursing through our atmosphere that normally produce the aurora borealis. They're referring to this newly discovered phenomenon as 'skyglow.' 

“Our main conclusion is that STEVE is not an aurora,” Bea Gallardo-Lacourt said in a recent statement. “So right now, we know very little about it. And that’s the cool thing, because this has been known by photographers for decades. But for the scientists, it’s completely unknown.”

Gallardo-Lacourt is a space physicist at the University of Calgary in Canada and lead author of the new study 'On the Origin of STEVE: Particle Precipitation or Ionospheric Skyglow?' in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

Steve gained wide attention from 2015 to 2016 when citizen scientists, in an effort to identify the phenomenon, shared over 30 reports of the skyglow with a project funded by NASA and the National Science Foundation.

Tobias Wayland