Celestial phenomenon Steve captured over Skye

A German photographer has captured what he believes could be the biggest known manifestation of the newly discovered celestial phenomenon dubbed Steve, which he witnessed on the Isle of Skye last year.

Picture: Frank Heumann
Picture: Frank Heumann

Frank Heumann, who lives in Ebersdorf in the Bavaria region of Germany, has been coming to Scotland for more than 30 years after visiting as a teenager in 1981.

But he got more than he bargained for during a stay on the island last autumn, when he was lucky enough to see a spectacular display of the brightly coloured illuminations.

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“I started my visits to Scotland while travelling across Europe as an 18-year-old boy,” he said.

“The Misty Isle was like a magnet for me. I fell in love with the wet, wet island and swore to come back later.”

In 2005 he did return and has made regular visits with his partner ever since, enjoying discovering local history and exploring and photographing the dramatic landscape.

“Last year we went to the island during October,” he said

“The weather was bad. We had everything – storm, rain, storm and rain and storm.

“My goal was to see the northern lights, but there was no gap in the clouds until the last two days.

“On the last day I knew it was my last chance to get some shots.

“There were clouds all over but I decided to go out anyway, and ventured into the dark.

“I took my car and headed to Trumpan church on the Waternish peninsula.”

He saw a bright light on the horizon and was delighted to be able to get the aurora borealis on camera.

“It was still stormy,” he said.

“I set up my tripod and focused on the horizon. Yes, there was a little arc but it was nothing compared to what was happening over my head.

“Like a curtain, a glimmering black and white trace of energy was moving across the sky.

“Immediately I changed my lens to a fish-eye, put the camera on the tripod and set it to a long exposure.

“The picture showed a red band in the sky I have never seen before. It was a fifth of the sky in diameter and moved from east to west over the course of about half an hour.

“To combat the wind shaking my tripod I decided to move inside the ruins of the church, where a massacre took place in 1578.

“I lay down on this special ground, placed my tripod over my chest and took photos of the relaxing Steve. There were colours in the sky all over.”

The spectacle, a type of aurora, was named Steve by a group of citizen scientists who first documented it in Canada in 2016.

The moniker was inspired by the film Over the Hedge, but the Alberta Aurora Chasers later said it was an acronym for “strong thermal emission velocity enhancement”.

Steve, which appears as a ribbon of mainly purplish and green light and moves across the sky from east to west, has been described as an “optical manifestation” of another phenomenon – the sub-auroral drift.

It is a visible strip of ionised gas, travelling at four miles a second across the heavens.

Mr Heumann believes the Steve he watched on Skye was possibly the largest expression of the display ever recorded.