If astronomy had its own Academy Awards, then this part of the Milky Way would have been the "Favorite Nebula" pick for 2011. Competing against 12,263 other slices of the sky, this got more votes from the 35,000 volunteers searching for cosmic bubbles than any other location.
The volunteers are all "citizen scientists" working on the Milky Way Project, scanning a vast collection of infrared images from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. Their goal is to identify bubbles that have been blown into gas and dust by stars forming in our Milky Way galaxy. The volunteers study image after image, drawing circles around possible bubbles. Together their efforts have produced a catalog of more than 5,000 bubbles, 10 times what was known before.
While scrutinizing each of the images, the volunteers can bookmark favorite areas. The bright yellow-red nebula at the center of this image garnered the most votes.
Interestingly, this nebula, which is in the constellation of Scutum, has no common name since it is hidden behind dust clouds. It takes an infrared telescope like Spitzer, which sees beyond the visible spectrum of light, to see through this dark veil and reveal this spectacular hidden nebula. Stars can be seen in the process of forming within this audience-favorite nebula, as well in the surrounding areas in this image.