Aurora are caused by geomagnetic storms which occur when the sun blasts high-energy particles toward Earth. They interact with the particles in the upper atmosphere and the result is colorful, shimmering lights.
Eric Donovan, a professor at the University of Calgary, said he wouldn’t have ever known this feature existed had it not been for the photo-sharing group on Facebook, according to the European Space Agency:
While the Aurora Chasers combed through their photos and kept an eye out for the next appearances of Steve, Prof. Donovan and colleagues turned to data from the Swarm mission and his network of all-sky cameras.Soon he was able to match a ground sighting of Steve to an overpass of one of the three Swarm satellites.“The temperature 300 km above Earth’s surface jumped by 3000°C and the data revealed a 25 km-wide ribbon of gas flowing westwards at about 6 km/s compared to a speed of about 10 m/s either side of the ribbon.“It turns out that Steve is actually remarkably common, but we hadn’t noticed it before. It’s thanks to ground-based observations, satellites, today’s explosion of access to data and an army of citizen scientists joining forces to document it.