Eerie Auroral Activity Turned Blood Red Above New Zealand – Here’s Why

Credit: Martinis et al.

A blood-red arc of light appeared in the sky above New Zealand on March 17, 2015. The spooky strip of light dubbed as STEVE was watched by an amateur skywatcher for another half hour before it was turned into one of Planet’s most intriguing atmospheric wonders.

After a group of amateur aurora chasers saw a thin stream of gauzy purple light arcing over the sky in northern Canada in 2018, the term “STEVE” was coined. STEVE was quickly ruled out as an aurora by scientists who researched the event. Auroras form when solar particles clash with atoms high in Earth’s atmosphere, and they are visible at high latitudes. STEVE, on the other hand, was a distinct and unrecognized phenomena.

Since STEVE is far lower in the sky than the northern lights, it consists of a single purplish-white ribbon that shoots straight up into the night sky for hundreds of kilometers. Occasionally, a broken green line of lights, known as the “picket fence phenomena,” might accompany it. They are located in the subauroral area, which is far lower in the sky than a conventional aurora and where charged sun particles are unable to invade.

New study

A study published in the journal Science has connected STEVE with an entirely new subauroral structure called as stable auroral red (SAR).

Researchers from the University of Canterbury Mount John Observatory matched the March 2015 film of a New Zealand skywatcher to satellite data and data from an All Sky Imager at Mount John Observatory. The researchers were able to get a clear picture of STEVE’s looks that night after combining these three data points.

In the early evening, a blood-red SAR arc appeared above Dunedin, New Zealand, swooping at least 185 miles away. Data from satellites indicated that the arc appeared at the same time as a major geomagnetic storm, which was a shower of solar-charged particles into Earth’s upper atmosphere.

Storm clouds began to dissipate, but not before they were replaced with the distinctive mauve stripe that is STEVE’s trademark. Soon after STEVE vanished, the green fence construction appeared. First time that all three structures have shown in the sky simultaneously, one after the other—possibly shedding light on the origin and development of the STEVE.

Susan Kowal
Susan Kowal is a serial entrepreneur, angel investor/advisor, and health enthusiast.