Northern Lights: What is Steve and why is it different to an aurora borealis? – BBC

A message to everyone called Steve – your name was quite literally up in lights on Sunday night.
Steve is shy and rarely appears in the skies of the UK – there were reported sightings back in March and in the Shetland Islands in 2021.
But Steve has returned, this time illuminating the skies over the north-east of England and Scotland.
The thin, purple ribbon, which was seen glowing in the sky in Northumberland, County Durham and Argyll, is a relatively new scientific discovery.
Steve is not an aurora but is often associated with its better known cousin, the aurora borealis – or Northern Lights – which was also captured across parts of the UK on Sunday.
The much rarer Steve has appeared in the pictures BBC Weather were sent from their Weather Watchers.
It has been photographed for decades but only got the name Steve in 2016, following a US citizen science project funded by Nasa and the National Science Foundation.
The inspiration behind the glow's name is thought to be a scene from the animated movie "Over the Hedge".
In it, a group of animals awake from hibernation to find what to them is another awe-inspiring phenomenon – a big garden hedge.
"What is this thing?" one creature says.
"I'd be a lot less afraid of it if I just knew what it was called," another says, before a squirrel recommends calling it Steve.
"I'm a lot less scared of Steve," another animal replies.
Scientists later adapted the name into an acronym – "Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement".
And it's not just sky-watchers who have shown an interest in Steve.
In 2019, the Canadian government minted a collector's coin worth $20 featuring the mysterious streaks of light.
Little was known about its formation and why it can sometimes appear during an aurora display.
Nasa's Goddard Space Flight Center has been studying Steve using pictures from the ground along with satellites.
While auroras happen globally in an oval shape, Steve appears as a ribbon and lasts for 20 minutes to an hour before disappearing.
While Steve is only spotted in the presence of an aurora, it is not a normal aurora as scientists suggests it comprises of a fast-moving stream of extremely hot particles called a subauroral ion drift, or SAID.
As Steve is unpredictable and only lasts for a short time, recording occurrences from the ground is rare.
The phenomenon has been reported from the UK, Canada, northern US states and New Zealand, according to Nasa.
The aurora borealis was spotted right across the UK on Sunday night.
Aurora watchers were alerted to a geomagnetic storm in the evening after a strong solar wind sent charged particles towards Earth.
These charged particles follow the magnetic pull into the North Pole and interacted with oxygen and nitrogen in our atmosphere to create the greens, purples and reds associated with the Northern Lights.
While normally just seen at high latitudes such as Scotland, it was so strong it was captured on camera right across the UK.
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Watch: UK skies lit up by stunning Northern Lights show
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