Between 2010 and 2015, citizen scientists scanning false-color images from NASA’s now-defunct Spitzer Space Telescope discovered something strange: globes of yellow light strewn about the Milky Way. The citizen scientists speculated the globes represented a step in star formation, and soon began referring to them as
Grace Wolf-Chase, an astronomer at the Planetary Science Institute in Naperville, Illinois, led the researchers. Wolf-Chase told
The scientists say they can confirm the yellowballs as embryonic stars by comparing them to existing catalogs of star clusters. (Stars are “born” in nebulae, which are unimaginably massive clouds of gas and dust; the clouds shrink under their own gravity, and eventually become so dense they initiate nucleosynthesis.)
The goal now, Wolf-Chase says, is to be able to pick out and study individual yellowballs. The astronomer and her colleagues will use the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope for that research; another space observatory, which, like Spitzer, has been built to survey the universe in (mostly) the infrared range of the electromagnetic spectrum. But that’s the only way to image faint, distant objects like these yellowballs. And colorizing the pictures seems to be just as much fun as coming up with names for the objects in them anyway.