The Milky Way Project asked members of the public to classify the objects in images from the Spitzer Space Telescope. One of the classifiers wondered what the fuzzy yellow balls in the pictures were. The astronomers got together, and now have an answer.

People working on The Milky Way Project spend their days looking for bubbles. These bubbles represent new stars forming in the Milky Way. There are too many objects, and too many images, for scientists to go through each and every one. So members of the public pitch in, sifting through images and pointing out the bubbles. So far, they've made one and half million classifications, and along the way they noticed something weird when a commenter on a message board asked, "Any ideas what these bright yellow fuzzy objects are?"

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Good question. Astronomers took a look at the 900 objects now known as "yellowballs" and came up with an answer. Although the light being studied is infrared, and the colors are false, "yellowballs" are the overlap of light from superheated dust and light from other, complex molecules. They're an early stage in the formation of stars about 10 to 40 times the size of our sun.

It's not earthshattering, but it's an example of professional astronomers and citizen scientists helping each other figure out things about the cosmos. Very cool, yes?

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Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

[Source: The Milky Way Project: What are Yellowballs?]