It started as a loose collection of sky-watchers, who braved the cold on countless nights to catch the shimmering colors of the aurora borealis dancing above them.
It developed into a friendly argument between amateurs and experts, which erupted over beers one evening at a pub in Calgary, Canada.
And it ended this week, with a peer-reviewed paper in a well-known scientific journal.
Researchers have discovered a new type of the aurora, also known in Europe and North America as the Northern Lights. The newly described phenomenon appears as a narrow, glowing ribbon of lavender and emerald, emblazoned in the sky from east to west.
This new feature differs from the long-studied “classical” aurora in several ways. It can be seen from much closer to the equator than its more famous twin, and it emanates from a spot twice as high in the sky. It was also first described and studied not by cultivated researchers—like those who coined the moniker aurora borealis—but by devoted amateurs. They were among the first to photograph the ethereal streak of purple light, and they were the first to give it a name.
That name is Steve. The discovery of Steve is described in a paper published Wednesday in Science Advances.
It’s a scientific accomplishment that would make headlines even if amateurs had not taken part—or if it had recieved a less remarkable name. Scientists have not discovered a new aurora-related phenomenon since the early 1990s, said Lawrence Lyons, a professor of physics at UCLA who was not connected with the paper.
“I’ve never seen something this new discovered by citizen scientists in the aurora before,” he told me. “Finding something you can identify as a new structure in the aurora is relatively unusual. The last major thing was poleward boundary intensification, and you can find that name used back over 20 years ago.”
The discovery is all the more remarkable because Steve’s pioneers did not intend to find a new phenomenon: They just wanted to admire nature. Take Chris Ratzlaff, for instance. Four years ago, he went out one night to watch and photograph the aurora near his home in Calgary, Alberta.
By itself, this was nothing unusual. Though Ratzlaff is a software developer by day, he helps run a Facebook group for aurora watchers in his province, and he has traveled to see the lights around the world. “I don’t make any income from it, but it’s certainly more …read more
Source:: The Atlantic – Best of