In 2016, watchers of the night sky above the Canadian province of Alberta observed a strange phenomenon. A purple and green ribbon snaked across the night sky, seemingly endless.
Scientists were baffled.
At first, watchers assumed that it could be some previously-unseen variation of aurora - similar to the more commonly-known aurora borealis, the “Northern Lights”. It didn’t quite fit, though. The colorful light of an aurora normally ripples horizontally across the sky, while this phenomenon instead formed a distinctive purplish or greenish vertical streak. It appeared to stretch the length of Canada, from the Atlantic Maritimes to British Columbia.
By the spring of this year, researchers had developed an alternate theory: A study published in the peer-reviewed journal Science Advances suggested that the phenomenon accompanies a subauroral ion drift (SAID), a fast-moving stream of extremely hot particles. This would have marked the first known visual effect accompanying such a stream.
These explanations just fell apart, however - a joint study published this week by researchers at the University of Alberta and UCLA found that the phenomenon lacks evidence of the traces of charged particles coursing through Earth’s atmosphere that would normally be seen in auroras.
The phenomenon, therefore, is not an aurora, but something entirely different: a mysterious, largely unexplained phenomenon. One of the authors of the study noted that, “right now, we know very little about it.” Some have taken to calling it a “sky glow”.
Others have attempted, despite the lack of scientific explanation, to give it a science-y sounding name: The “Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement”.
Well, Canadian researchers and NASA may not know what it is, but that’s probably just their lack of resources and high-powered technological tools. Every Day Should Be Saturday was able to gain access to the Vox Media Space Telescope, and we’ve been able to shed new light on this phenomenon - in images seen here for the first time ever.
There. There it is.
Computer, clean up image noise.
We’ve got something. Enhance.
ENHANCE. ROTATE. SCIENCE.
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