Questions for ‘The weird sky glow called STEVE is really confusing scientists’

a photo of STEVE and the green picket fence skyglows in a starry night sky. Still water refects the sky. On the far right is a typical green aurora.

Scientists are struggling to figure out the right recipe of atmospheric conditions that create STEVE (purple) and its sidekick, the picket fence (green).

N. Zeller

To accompany ‘The weird sky glow called STEVE is really confusing scientists’


Before Reading:

  1. Have you ever seen auroras, such as the northern or southern lights? If so, think about where you saw these auroras and what they looked like. If not, read a little bit about auroras and how they form. Where would you expect to see auroras in the night sky? What would you expect them to look like? If you saw a strange colorful light in the sky, what features would you use to determine if it was an aurora?

During Reading:

  1. What did citizen scientists think STEVE was at first? How did Eric Donovan know that couldn’t be the purple glow’s true identity?
  2. Why does Claire Gasque say that explaining STEVE could be useful beyond understanding a pretty light show?
  3. How do normal auroras form? How is STEVE’s formation process different?
  4. What did Alan Dyer’s video reveal about STEVE that past images hadn’t?
  5. What is the leading theory for what causes STEVE’s purple glow? How does Alan Dyer’s new video support or undermine that idea?
  6. What is a SAR arc? How does one form?
  7. Megan Gillies says that scientists need computer models to understand the relationship between STEVEs and SAR arcs. Why? How would computer models help?
  8. Why did scientists at first think the picket fence might be a normal aurora? Why do they now suspect that isn’t the case?
  9. What does Claire Gasque’s new computer model suggest about how the picket fence forms?
  10. What are “enhanced auroras”? How could studying this type of aurora help scientists better understand the picket fence?

After Reading:

  1. STEVE isn’t the only atmospheric light show recently discovered by citizen scientists. Amateur astronomers have also helped discover a mysterious double aurora and a strange type of northern light called “the dunes.” Why do you think there have been so many recent discoveries like this? Are there more, or more varied, lights in the night sky now? Or might there be other reasons why citizen-science discoveries are becoming more common?