Strange purple light phenomenon ‘Steve’ spotted across UK skies

‘It is caused by hot rivers of gas flowing through Earth’s magnetosphere’

Vishwam Sankaran
Tuesday 07 November 2023 09:55 GMT

Related video: Solar Eruptions Will Make Northern Lights Visible From the Continental US

Powerful solar storms over the weekend led to aurora borealis in the skies above the UK on Sunday alongside a strange purple light phenomenon known as Steve.

The light phenomenon, referred to as Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement (Steve) are a recent discovery similar to aurora borealis and australis.

Stargazers across the UK and other parts of Europe shared their pictures of the soft purple streaks across the dark skies.

Steve has a lot in common with a phenomenon in which ions flow very quickly from east to west, closer to the equator than the aurora borealis.

It results from interactions between charged particles in solar storms, also called Coronal Mass Ejections, or CMEs, and the Earth’s protective magnetic field layer around it called the magnetosphere.

“It is caused by hot rivers of gas flowing through Earth’s magnetosphere at speeds exceeding 13,000 mph,” according to

In a Steve, these rivers of hot gas are energised by strong geomagnetic storms like the one that happened over the weekend.

It was first discovered by amateur scientists in a project called “Aurorasaurus,” who gave it the nickname Steve as a placeholder.

It has also been spotted a number of times in 2015 and 2016 and was even seen from above by a passing European Space Agency satellite.

But scientists later gave it the moniker Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement, essentially retaining the acronym.

In polar lights – or auroras – colorful lights are spotted glimmering across the night sky.

These are produced as charged particles from the Sun are trapped in the Earth’s magnetic field, and some of these end up on a collision course with molecules in the atmosphere, releasing their energy in the form of light.

Steve is also created essentially in the same way as a normal aurora by charged particles impacting the Earth’s magnetic field, but here they travel along “different magnetic field lines” of the Earth, and form a distinct purplish or greenish streak in the sky.

It appears “a very narrow arc, aligned east-west, and extends for hundreds or thousands of miles,” according to Nasa.

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