M94 is a nice spiral galaxy located in the constellation of Canes Venatici. Due to its eye-like resemblance, it's also known as the Cats Eye galaxy or Crocs Eye galaxy. With an apparent magnitude of +8.5, this galaxy is a difficult binocular object that requires dark skies and good transparency. At best through such instruments, it appears as only a small faint hazy patch of light.
M94 is one of the nearest galaxies beyond our Local Group. It's located about 16 million light-years distance and belongs to the M94 Group, a collection of between 16 and 24 galaxies within the Virgo Supercluster. Pierre Méchain discovered it on March 22, 1781 and it was subsequently confirmed and catalogued 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 Plough or Big Dipper asterism of Ursa Major. The second brightest star in the constellation is Chara (β CVn - mag. +4.2), which is positioned just over 5 degrees northwest of Cor Caroli. M94 is 3 degrees east and a fraction south of Chara. Further eastwards is the fine Sunflower Galaxy (M63).
Through any telescope, M94 appears unmistakable as a galaxy. A small 80mm (3.1-inch) refractor reveals a fuzzy patch of light with a distinct bright central core. When viewed through a medium size scope of the order of 200mm (8-inch) aperture, the nucleus appears as a condensed point of light that shines through the mist of the surrounding nebulosity, somewhat like an eye staring back at you. The halo is smooth, but hints at the spiral nature of the object. Even larger amateur reflectors show mottling, a bright ring around the core and finer details.
M94 is a rare galaxy as 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 with both regions containing strong 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 and is best seen from the Northern Hemisphere during the months of March, April or May.
M94 Data Table
|Cats Eye Galaxy
|12h 50m 53s
|+41d 07m 12s
|Apparent Size (arc mins)
|11.2 x 9.2
|Number of Stars
|One of the brightest galaxies in the M94 Group