Canadian citizen scientist photographers spotted a fleeting type of aurora not seen before, dubbed “Steve,” and scientists have started working out what’s causing them.
By Ramin Skibba
While the northern and southern lights have dazzled watchers of the night sky for millennia, vigilant citizen scientist photographers found another type of aurora over the past few years: a short-lived shimmering purple ribbon of plasma. Their intriguing discovery drew the attention of space scientists, who have just begun to study them.
“Dedicated aurora chasers, especially from Alberta, Canada, were out in the middle of the night, looking north and taking beautiful photos. Then farther south they happened to see a faint narrow purple arc as well,” says Elizabeth MacDonald, a space physicist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. There’s different physics behind those purple aurora, she says.
MacDonald led a team who observed the aurora by sending one of the European Space Agency’s Swarm satellites through it. The results suggest they’re a manifestation of accelerated and heated charged particles coming from the sunthat interact with a particular part of the Earth’s magnetic field in the ionosphere. The team published their findings in Science Advances Wednesday.
The citizen scientists weren’t sure about what they’d seen, so they called the strange aurora structure “Steve.” The name caught on, and MacDonald and her team kept it, proposing the backronym Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement (STEVE). While scientists had known about lower-latitude currents of charged particles for decades, they had no idea that they could produce auroras visible to the eye. But now that people have smartphones and digital cameras more sensitive than what scientists had back then, they can pick out these rare aurora, which last only about an hour.
Earth is not a Harlem Globetrotter basketball spinning around on a finger.
The simple answer to your question why I believe is because this is what all the evidence has shown.
The word you use – spinning – is designed to indicate the earth is like a spinning top whizzing around and around at high speed. This is not true of Earth. Earth is rotating very slowly. Imagine a soccer ball on a table that turns around once every 24 hours. You could stare at it for a long time and not notice it move. The earth rotates half the speed of the hour hand on a clock. Can you see a clock’s hour hand move? It’s moving twice as fast as the earth is rotating.
So no. The earth is not spinning. It’s rotating very slowly. So slowly that there’s only a barely measurable difference in your weight at the equator than at the poles.
When we say it “spins” at just over 1000 mph at the equator it misleads some people to think that is so fast that things should go flying off into space. Think of it in terms of revolutions per minute (rpm).
Circular saw blades have an rpm of 3,000 to 50,000. Things fly off them. Cars sometimes have RPM gauges that measure RPM in the thousands. In the image below, this car redlines when the engine has an RPM of 7,000.
The rpm of Earth is 0.000694 RPM or about about 1/2 of one thousandths of an RPM.
Things don’t fly off something going just over 1/2 of one thousandths of an RPM. On the gauge below that would register as zero.