Meet Steve, your friendly neighbourhood aurora

Mysterious "new" phenomenon may really be as common as its name
large aurora steve "Hey, Steve! Are we still hanging out this weekend... oh, wait. Wrong Steve." (ESA/Dave Merkel)

Do you know a Steve? Quite a few of us do. In fact, you might even be a Steve yourself! (Or a Steven or Stephen. Stefan? Stephanie? Stephanos? Hey, you get the idea.)

But whether it's a best friend, a classmate, or the person you look at each morning in the mirror, we're pretty sure that the "Steve" that you're thinking of looks nothing like this...

That's right. This unusual streak across the sky has a name and that name is Steve.

Pleased to meet you... whatever you are!

Even if we know what to call it, scientists are still not sure what Steve actually is. It certainly isn't your traditional aurora. Those are caused by streams of charged electrons colliding with our atmosphere and forming beautiful sheets of waving colours of the night sky. Steve, on the other hand, is an incredibly hot, incredibly long, relatively narrow occurrence. The gas within it is about 3,000°C (5,400°F), and it travels at around 21,000 km/h (13,000 mph). According to Eric Donovan, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Calgary, the next step is figuring out why this is happening.

"Now what we're doing is trying to figure out what is exactly causing this, why the gas is moving so fast, why it's so narrow, why it's so long in the east-west direction and why it's so common," he told the CBC.

Regular occurrence

Common? Yes, it's true, for a just-named feature, this is something that happens pretty regularly. Donovan gives credit to "an army of citizen scientists joining forces to document it". Maybe that's why scientists are allowing its name to stick—everyday astronomy enthusiasts are a big reason why we know about it in the first place. If you're curious, here's the movie clip that inspired the name Steve, from the 2006 animated film, Over The Hedge.

Welcome to our world, Steve. We have to agree, you're not that scary after all.

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  1. We think it is more like Wayne or Connor or Keyshawn or Kevin or Bruce or Willy or Matt or Violet (it’s purple, after all).

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