In episode 45, Liz MacDonald from the NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, discusses in her research into STEVE, a previously unrecorded atmospheric phenomenon discovered by citizen scientists in late 2016 that appears as a ribbon of flickering purple and green light in the night sky. Her open-access article “New science in plain sight: Citizen scientists lead to the discovery of optical structure in the upper atmosphere” was published on March 18, 2018 in Science Advances, and was co-authored with multiple professional and citizen scientists.







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Hosts / Producers

Doug Leigh & Ryan Watkins

How to Cite

Leigh, D., Watkins, R., & MacDonald, E.. (2019, March 20). Parsing Science – The Wonder of STEVE. figshare.


What’s The Angle? by Shane Ivers

Annotated Article 



Liz McDonald: The scientists, we, eventually figured out that that was a thing called the subauroral ion drift.

Ryan Watkins: This is parsing science. The unpublished stories behind the world’s most compelling science as told by the researchers themselves. I’m Ryan Watkins…

Doug Leigh: And I’m Doug Leigh. Today, in episode 45 of Parsing Science we’ll talk with Liz McDonald from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt Maryland about her research in the STEVE, a previously unreported atmospheric phenomena discovered by citizen scientists in late 2016 which appears as a ribbon of flickering purple and green light in the night sky. Here is Liz McDonald.

McDonald: Hello! I’m Liz McDonald, and I’m a space plasma physicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. I study the aurora in all kinds of different forms, both from kind of satellite observations and observations of the beautiful lights from the ground, from scientific cameras. And so what I do is kind of called space weather. Much like the usual weather, it’s very hard to predict, much more hard to predict than even our terrestrial weather. So the sun gives us not just light but also charged particles which are the fourth state of matter, known as plasma, and that’s always changing what intensity and kinds of particles are coming from the sun, and that’s what drives the visibility of the aurora.

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