M94 is a nice spiral galaxy located in the constellation of Canes Venatici. It's also known as the Cats Eye Galaxy or the Crocs Eye Galaxy due to its stunning eye-like resemblance. With an apparent magnitude of +8.5, it's a difficult binocular object requiring dark skies and good transparency; at best appearing as only a small faint hazy patch of light.
M94 is one of the nearest galaxies beyond our Local Group of Galaxies. It's located about 16 million light years distance and belongs to the M94 Group, a collection of between 16 and 24 galaxies lying within the Virgo Supercluster. The galaxy was discovered by Pierre Méchain on March 22, 1781 and subsequently confirmed and cataloged two days later by Charles Messier.
The constellation of Canes Venatici is faint but the brightest star Cor Caroli (α CVn - mag. +2.9) can be quite easily found since it's due south of the famous Plough or Big Dipper asterism of Ursa Major. The second brightest star in the constellation is Chara (β CVn - mag. +4.2), located just over 5 degrees northwest of Cor Caroli. M94 is 3 degrees east and a fraction south of Chara. Keep continuing eastwards and you will reach the fine Sunflower Galaxy (M63).
Through any telescope M94 appears unmistakable as a galaxy. A small 80mm (3.1-inch) instrument shows a fuzzy patch with a distinct bright central core. When viewed through a medium size scope of the order of 150mm (6-inch) or 200mm (8-inch) aperture it offers more detail. The galaxy nucleus appears as a brilliant condense point of light that shines through the mist of the surrounding compact nebulosity; somewhat like an eye staring back at you. The halo appears smooth but hints at the spiral nature of the object. Even larger amateur instruments show mottling, a brighter ring around the core and exquisite details.
M94 is a rare galaxy in that it contains two star forming or starburst rings of interstellar material. The inner ring has a diameter of 70 arc seconds, the outer ring 600 arc seconds and both regions are of strong star forming activity.
In total the galaxy spans 11.2 x 9.2 arc minutes of apparent sky, which corresponds to a spatial diameter of 50,000 light-years. It's estimated to contain about 40 billion stars. The galaxy is best seen from the Northern Hemisphere during the months of March, April or May.
M94 Data Table
|Name||Cats Eye Galaxy|
|Object Type||Spiral galaxy|
|RA (J2000)||12h 50m 53s|
|DEC (J2000)||41d 07m 12s|
|Apparent Size (arc mins)||11.2 x 9.2|
|Number of Stars||40 Billion|
|Notable Feature||One of the brightest galaxies in the M94 Group|