You may think the modern world of social media has nothing more to offer than cat videos or rants, but it turns out it can have some very useful applications. A Facebook group of amateur citizen scientists captured rare photos of an electrical phenomenon. Known as the Alberta Aurora Chasers, the group members spotted the amazing show within the Aurora Borealis and named it “Steve”. Their discovery also caused quite a stir in the scientific community.
Meet Steve, the Light Show
In 2016, the aurora watchers observed a fleeting, vertical strip of light sailing across the Aurora Borealis. This was in stark contrast to the flow of the other emissions that light up the northern Arctic skies. They declared it a “proton arc”. Then, they presented their collective photographic efforts to Dr. Eric Donovan of the University of Calgary’s Physics and Astronomy department.
This denounced the proton aurora theory since they are not actually a visible phenomenon. Nonetheless, Donovan joined in on their enthusiasm for the unidentified light. Since it was still a mystery, they kept calling it Steve. This is a lighthearted reference to the movie “Over the Hedge”.
Dr. Donovan recruited the help of scientists from the European Space Agency. This has three SWARM satellites that continuously record sky events. Data from those satellites provided more insight into the mysterious streak.
Steve is a dense, 10,000-plus degree material. It is moving at approximately 4 miles per second. This is considerably slower than the surrounding emissions. Prof. Donovan is now using the data from the amateur observers to correlate satellite recordings with reported observations. He is doing so in the hopes of unveiling mysterious Steve.
The arc’s electronic makeup and source are yet unidentified, but research did establish something. Professor Donovan said:
“It turns out that Steve is actually remarkably common, but we hadn’t noticed it before.”
There is another thing that became quite apparent. Social media can offer a whole new level of possibility and help move along this research. Sky phenomena were once previously observed but rarely captured. But now, they can constantly be recorded by a community of web-connected aurora watchers.
Image Source: Wikimedia