northern lights steve
Photo by Neil Zeller / CBC

Have you seen this purple streak of light in the night sky?

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For years, photographers have been capturing a purple streak of light in their photos of the northern lights. Affectionately dubbed “Steve,” this phenomenon can be seen from Hudson Bay to Alaska.

So how did it get this strange name? During a night at the pub, Eric Donovan, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Calgary, corrected the misconception that it was a proton aura. To prevent the mislabeling of the anomaly, Donovan suggested the name Steve as a placeholder, inspired by a scene from the movie Over the Hedge.

Photo by Dave Markel Photography / CBC

Even having identified the phenomenon as a streak of hot and fast moving gas, the name has not changed. “It kind of stuck from there,” Donovan told CBC. “Now what we’re doing is trying to figure out what is exactly causing this, why the gas is moving so fast, why it’s so narrow, why it’s so long in the east-west direction and why it’s so common.”

Donovan’s colleague in California found that the name worked perfectly. “He said, ‘What you have is a sudden thermal emission through a velocity enhancement, which would make Steve the actual correct acronym,'” Donovan said.

So get your cameras out and search the skies for Steve, he’s pretty photogenic.