‘Citizen scientists’ have been credited with the discovery of a new type of aurora which has been seen in the night skies . Except it is not an aurora , in fact nobody seems to know what it is . The phenomenon was named STEVE , more specifically Purple STEVE , or even more specifically “Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement” .
- That New Kind of Aurora Called “Steve”? Turns Out, it Isn’t an Aurora at All
- New kind of aurora is not an aurora at all
STEVE has been spotted by aurora watchers for a decade or so now , possibly longer , STEVE has recently captured the imagination of professional scientists and astronomers who are flummoxed by what causes STEVE to light up the sky .
Even more baffling is why professional astronomers and space scientists were unable to record and capture images of STEVE before the amateur sky watchers .
So what is known about STEVE ? Well according to the skywatchers at Aurosaurus the following facts are known :
- Steve appears ~10-20° (in latitude) closer to the equator (south in the Northern hemisphere) than where the normal green aurora is overhead. This means it could be overhead at latitudes similar to Calgary, Canada.
- Steve is a very narrow arc aligned East-West and extending for hundreds or thousands of miles.
- Steve emits light in mostly purple-ish colors. It is quite faint but is usually photographed with 5-10 second exposures.
- Sometimes, it is accompanied by a rapidly evolving green short-lived picket fence structure.
- Steve can last 20 min or even longer.
- Steve appears to have a season. For instance, it has not been observed by citizen scientists from October 2016 to February 2017.
- This phenomena has been reported from the UK, Canada, Alaska, northern US states, and even New Zealand.
Hmmmm ? It would appear that STEVE has only been spotted in the UK , Canada , Alaska , New Zealand and the US .
The same countries also form the core of the Five Eyes Syndicate , no doubt a coincidence , but still an interesting fact .
Sorry , no Australia in the list of sightings by country . Sorry to disappoint the conspiracy theorists out there . Definitely a coincidence .
Oh……..Wait a minute………..
News just in , a ‘picket fence’ aurora similar to other STEVE sightings has been spotted in Australia , by an amateur sky watcher , two amateur sky watchers in fact .
- Craig Stevens’ photo of aurora australis with ‘picket fence’, Tasmania, 5 November, 2018
- Aurora Australis with bonus ‘picket fence’ wows southern lights chasers in Tasmania
Scientific Studies of STEVE
NASA and the ESA have been actively trying to solve the mystery of STEVE . World class scientists using cutting edge observation and sensing technology have merged in an attempt to crack the conundrum . This is the same world class expertise that did not spot STEVE until it was pointed out to them , probably too busy looking for nonexistent alien UFO’s .
The findings were a little disappointing to say the least , to summate they still do not know what causes STEVE , or is this not surprising ?
A research team led by NASA scientist Liz MacDonald had this to say ‘Is it a bird ? Is it a plane ?…’
I jest , but Liz may as well have said just that .
Liz also stated that she was ‘extremely disappointed that STEVE was not a flying saucer containing little green men’ .
I jest again .
A summary of the research paper is below .
- STEVE represents a mixture of exotic emissions
- STEVE is a previously undescribed optical auroral phenomenon
- The region of the arc corresponds to an elevated electron temperature of 6000 K
- STEVE is made of a super fast stream of charged particles and neutrals (plasma)
- The characteristic strong flow, density depletion, and temperature enhancement shown in are all indicative of a subauroral ion drift (SAID)
- However, SAIDs are not typically associated with an optical emission, and any optical emissions produced in association with SAIDs are not yet fully explained.
- The dominant purple color observed in STEVE is also not explained.
- New science in plain sight: Citizen scientists lead to the discovery of optical structure in the upper atmosphere
- Getting to know STEVE
- When SWARM met STEVE
Subauroral ion drifts (SAID) are nothing new and have been studied for decades .
A SAID or not a SAID
The research paper does hint that STEVE may be a SAID , although then again the paper also states
‘We note, however, that the flow speed and temperature measured during this event are much larger than typically reported in this region, including during previous SAID events.’
As can be seen from the diagrams below STEVE was mapped at altitudes between 170 to 230 km above Earth , although these altitudes represent peak emissions , so the variations in altitude could possibly be greater .
A more recent study continued the general theme of not finding out much at all , a team led by B. Gallardo‐Lacourt , who was involved in the first study , stated ‘Is it a bird ? Is it a plane ?…’
No he didn’t say that , but Gollardo-Lacourt did confirm that STEVE was an entirely new celestial phenomenon , also confirming that his next step was to find out exactly what was causing STEVE .
Which I would have thought was the primary objective of both studies , but then again I am not a scientist , maybe it takes time . Although I can imagine the title of the third research paper : “Is it a bird ? Is it a plane ?…”
- New kind of aurora is not an aurora at all
- On the Origin of STEVE: Particle Precipitation or Ionospheric Skyglow?
Non Scientific Study of STEVE
The altitude of STEVE places him firmly in the ionosphere , a region of charged particles which extends from around 50 to 950 km above the Earth . It also appears that STEVE prefers to traverse the ‘F layer’ of the ionosphere , a sub region with the greatest density of electrons .
STEVE is a racing driver of sorts as he hogs the F1 & F2
lanes layers , particularly the F2 layer . These layers are critical for long distance HF communications which reflect off the ionosphere .
The F layers of the ionosphere have been extensively studied by NASA .
STEVE is also a fair weather driver as he is usually sighted in the Summer months , obviously the ionospheric roads are simply too dangerous to race around during the Winter months , snow and ice could cause him to crash and burn .
I sincerely hope that never happens , honestly , really .
As can be seen from the images of STEVE , his ‘motor’ is primarily a blue–purple–violet colour .
The ionosphere is basically a band of charged air particles , which includes the elements oxygen , nitrogen & hydrogen . Usually gravity keeps the air particles in the place where they belong , which is the Earth’s lower atmosphere .
Air can escape the Earth’s atmosphere in a variety of natural ways , such as thermal heating , geomagnetic storms & solar winds . Tampering with the atmosphere can also cause a loss of air , ionospheric heating programmes , controlled satellite bursts and the firing of EM pulses into the atmosphere are man made examples .
Scientists have now also discovered mysterious hydrogen ‘hot atoms’ in the ionosphere which should not be there at all .
So what actually causes the green ‘picket fence’ effect which often accompany STEVE on his sojourns to the ionosphere ?
A Rydberg atom is very unusual , just like STEVE .
A Rydberg Atom can theoretically be formed from any other normal atom .
Consider an atom of copper , which has central protons and an equal number of orbiting electrons , the outer electron is termed the valence electron .
If we compare this with an atom of hydrogen which has only one electron orbiting one proton , then we can see that the outer valence electron is quite a distance away from the centre , in atomic terms of course .
A Rydberg atom has one or more valence atoms which are orbiting at a greater distance from the central orbital rings , therefore it behaves like a hydrogen atom . A little like combining the two atoms above .
For example , if you take the single valence electron from the copper atom and place its orbit at a greater distance from the central orbital electrons and proton it will look similar to the hydrogen atom & behave in a similar manner . You can force the outer electron(s) from any atom into a ‘higher orbit’ by energising the atom , by using a laser or ion beam for example .
So what practical applications are there regarding Rydberg atoms or similar ?
Using specific wavelengths or power densities of applied energy you can force a valence atom (or atoms) to reach a specific energy level , at this precise energy level the atom can be ‘tuned’ to then emit a specific wavelength , for example microwaves or infrared radiation .
The Magic Number
As stated earlier using a specific applied energy level will force the outer valence electron(s) to a higher energy level thus creating a Rydberg atom .
Now things get spooky , in a quantum way that is . At an energy level termed the ‘magic wavelength‘ the outer valence electrons will be forced to the higher energy level , but , they will also inhabit the initial lower ground state of energy .
The Rydberg atom is now in a state of quantum superposition .
The Rydberg atom can now potentially be used for quantum information transfer .
Other exotic states of matter are slowly being investigated , all involving the Rydberg Atom .
Rydberg Polarons are one example .
Just like Pacman gobbling up ghosts and dots and fruit , a Rydberg atom can munch on nearby atoms or ions , a lot of them . As the valence electron(s) spin wildly around the Rydberg atom they are able to exert a minute force on surrounding atoms , these atoms are slowly attracted to the Rydberg atom where they are eventually sucked in to form a part of the nucleus .
- Physicists build bizarre molecules called ‘Rydberg polarons’
- Scientists Create Mind-Bending Rydberg Polarons, Atoms Full of Atoms
- Physicists Reveal a New State of Quantum Matter Called Rydberg Polaron
Also Rydberg molecules .
- Chemists Discover Rare Rydberg Molecule With ‘New’ Type Of Bonding
- Weak atomic bond, theorized 14 years ago, observed for first time
- Physicists Observe Butterfly Rydberg Molecule for First Time
Even stranger , it is thought that a Rydberg molecule can theoretically bond to a particle that does not even exist , a so called ghost particle .
If you add up all of the examples of bonding above , plus quite a few more that probably exist then we can come to the conclusion that Rydberg matter can be formed . Useful if you would like to create a central information relay hub , a little like a telephone exchange .
Quantum information systems are here at the present time , they will dominate communications in the future .
Supposedly they are unbreakable , unhackable , cannot be decrypted and are totally secure .
Part II coming soon(ish) .
- And suddenly a purple arc appeared in the night sky
- STEVE Image Gallery
- Picket Fence Aurora Or Steve
- Images of the mysterious purple ‘aurora’ light Steve
Related & Further Reading :
- Study of field‐aligned current (FAC)
- Charged oxygen in ionosphere may offer biomarker for exoplanets
- Giant atoms could help unveil ‘dark matter’ and other cosmic secrets
- Bose-Einstein condensate generated in space for the first time
- H II region
- Controlling Quantum Phase Transitions
- Rydberg atoms and quantum chaos
- Exotic states of matter
- Tuning up Rydberg atoms for quantum information applications
- Trapping giant Rydberg atoms for faster quantum computers
- Review of Cold Rydberg Atoms and Their Applications (PDF)
- Designer atoms Engineering Rydberg atoms using pulsed electric fields (PDF)
- Ionization of Rydberg atoms by standing-wave light fields (PDF)
- Flipping an egg carton of light traps giant atoms