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Science

Aurora Enthusiasts Discover A Strange New Light In The Sky And Named It Steve (bbc.com) 56

An anonymous reader quotes the BBC: A group of aurora enthusiasts have found a new type of light in the night sky and named it Steve. Eric Donovan from the University of Calgary in Canada spotted the feature in photos shared on a Facebook group. He did not recognise it as a catalogued phenomenon and although the group were calling it a proton arc, he knew proton auroras were not visible. Testing showed it appeared to be a hot stream of fast-flowing gas in the higher reaches of the atmosphere.

The European Space Agency sent electric field instruments to measure it 300km (190 miles) above the surface of the Earth and found the temperature of the air was 3,000C (5,400F) hotter inside the gas stream than outside it. Inside, the 25km-wide ribbon of gas was flowing at 6 km/s (13,000mph), 600 times faster than the air on either side.

One official at the European Space Agency made sure to thank the "army of citizen scientists" who helped with the discovery, saying "It turns out that Steve is actually remarkably common, but we hadn't noticed it before." The name apparently came from a scene in the movie "Over the Hedge."
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Aurora Enthusiasts Discover A Strange New Light In The Sky And Named It Steve

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 24, 2017 @07:49AM (#54291099)

    It could have been much worse. They could have called it Lighty McLightface.

  • by Big Hairy Ian ( 1155547 ) on Monday April 24, 2017 @08:20AM (#54291169)
    Bear in mind at the extremely low pressure @ 190 miles (You'd need a space suite) 3000C is not as sweltering as it sounds
    • Why? Because space is cold? Quite the opposite actually, for something that is generating heat a low pressure is a big problem being only able to radiate heat away and unable to rely on any convection.

  • by pr0t0 ( 216378 ) on Monday April 24, 2017 @08:27AM (#54291175)

    "It turns out that Steve is actually remarkably common, but we hadn't noticed it before."

    So, despite all of the sky watchers, stargazers, atmospheric researchers, astronauts, and people in Iceland; no one noticed the apparently "remarkably common" streaks of 5400 degree gas travelling at 13000mph a mere 50-60 miles below the ISS?

    • Re:Common? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Zocalo ( 252965 ) on Monday April 24, 2017 @08:45AM (#54291225) Homepage
      Aurora are highly variable objects; they come in many shapes, shades, intensities, speeds they move back and forth across the sky, the speed at which they can appear/disappear, and so on. It's not that they haven't been noticed before, in fact that's how they were identified as being so common - by finding examples captured in previous images of the night sky taken by aurora watchers and similar - it's just that no one has realised they were a distinct form of interaction between particles in the upper atmosphere until now. You've also got to keep in mind that for many people that live in latitudes where aurora are common they're just a fact of life and not all that much more notable than the moon in the night sky, so the chances are pretty high that these jets have been seen on countless occasions, maybe even photographed as well, dismissed as a band/ribbon aurora (not the most photogenic type, and of little interest unless you're new to aurora watching), and that was that.
      • "...for many people that live in latitudes where aurora are common they're just a fact of life and not all that much more notable than the moon in the night sky..."

        I live in the southern U.S., and have never seen one of them in-person. That's kind of mind-blowing.
        • by Zocalo ( 252965 )
          Stunned me too when I got speaking to locals on the earlier aurora orientated photography trips I've done. The very first trip I did, we'd just done a successful all-nighter, which for most of us was the first time we'd ever seen the lights, and were in an Icelandic garage/café getting some breakfast and looking over our images when we got talking with a long distance lorry driver - his response to a question about getting to see the aurora a lot was basically a shrug and "thousands of times, I guess,
    • Steve is remarkably common. Why I was in a meeting with 2 of them a few months ago. I was also on a project where the PM, the Tech Lead, and the IT support were all "Steve". The other two main contacts on that contract were honorary Steves too.

      The real question is why didn't people notice Steve until now? Did slashdot really need to run a front-page story to get us to notice Steve?

    • by PPH ( 736903 )

      5400 degree gas travelling at 13000mph a mere 50-60 miles below the ISS

      They just thought it was the holding tank dump on burrito night.

    • Sky watchers and stargazers go out of their way to get away from such disturbances. As do many researchers.
      Astronauts? Well what are they going to see whizzing past a relatively thin stream at an incredibly fast speed from a distance far enough to see an entire aurora?
      People in Iceland? Well I see a lot of new things all the time. I certainly do not go out of my way to identify if they are unique and have never been discovered before, especially not bright objects in the sky while I'm looking for bright obj

  • by jfdavis668 ( 1414919 ) on Monday April 24, 2017 @08:47AM (#54291233)
    and I will hug him and pet him and squeeze him
  • I'm never calling it that
  • Aurora Enthusiasts Discover A Strange New Light In The Sky And Named It Steve

    Did they name it (named: past tense) before they discovered it (discover: present tense)?

  • I'm wondering how long it will be before someone comes up with an excessively forced acronym for "steve".
    • I'm wondering how long it will be before someone comes up with an excessively forced acronym for "steve".

      Superhigh-Temperature Extreme Velocity Ether?

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