The shimmering green, red and purple curtains of the northern and southern lights — the auroras — may be the best-known phenomena lighting up the nighttime sky, but the most mysterious are the mauve and white streaks called Steve and their frequent companion, a glowing green "picket fence."
First recognized in 2018 as distinct from the common auroras, Steve — a tongue-in-cheek reference to the benign name given a scary hedge in a 2006 children's movie — and its associated picket fence were nevertheless thought to be caused by the same physical processes. But scientists were left scratching their heads about how these glowing emissions were produced.
Claire Gasque, a University of California, Berkeley, graduate student in physics, has now proposed a physical explanation for these phenomena that is totally different from the processes responsible for the well-known auroras. She has teamed up with researchers at the campus's Space Sciences Laboratory (SSL) to propose that NASA launch a rocket into the heart of the aurora to find out if she's correct.