How many rings do you see in this striking new image of the galaxy Messier 94 (NGC 4736) as seen by the infrared eyes of NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope? While at first glance one might see a number of them, astronomers believe there is just one.
Historically, Messier 94 was considered to have two strikingly different rings: a brilliant, compact band encircling the galaxy’s core, and a faint, broad, swath of stars falling outside its main disk.
Astronomers have recently discovered that the outer ring, seen here in the deep blue glow of starlight, may actually be more of an optical illusion. Their 2009 study combined infrared Spitzer observations with ultraviolet data from NASA’s Galaxy Evolution Explorer, and ground-based surveys in visible (Sloan Digital Sky Survey) and near infrared light (Two Micron All Sky Survey). This more complete picture of Messier 94 indicates that we are really seeing two separate spiral arms that, from our perspective, take on the appearance of a single, unbroken ring.
The bright inner ring of Messier 94 is very real, however. This area is sometimes identified as a “starburst ring” because of the frenetic pace of star formation in this confined area. Starbursts like this can often be triggered by gravitational encounters with other galaxies, but in this case may instead be caused by the galaxy’s oval shape.
Tucked in between the inner starburst ring and the outer ring-like arms we find the galaxy’s disk, striated with greenish filaments of dust. While, at first glance, these dusty arcs look like a collection of rings, they actually follow tightly wound spiral arcs.
Messier 94 is about 17 million light years away, making it a distant neighbor of our own Milky Way galaxy. It was first discovered by Charles Messier’s assistant, Pierre Méchain, in 1781 and was added to his supervisor’s famous catalog two days later.
I only take the best. I’ve got Rose.
“You are in the presence of Daenerys Stormborn, of House Targaryen. Queen of the Andals and the First Men, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Chains, and Mother of Dragons.”
She was startled to find the flat completely dark. Usually, when she got off her shift at Torchwood, she’d come home to nearly every light in the place on, the Doctor buzzing and whirring around with some new project or invention.
She stepped into the living room and flipped the switch, then stumbled back at the sight of the Doctor slumped on the couch, head in his hands. “Jesus, Doctor, you scared the shit out of me. What the hell are you doing, sitting here in the dark?”
He raised his head slowly, unable to keep it perfectly level, and blinked at her.
She noticed the mostly empty bottle of scotch next to his foot and sighed. “Exactly how sloshed are you?”
His eyes watered over, and he turned his head away, wobbling dangerously on the edge of the couch as he did so. She dropped her purse and keys to the floor, and was sitting beside him in an instant. “What’s wrong?”
He tried to pull away and grab hold of her at the same time. The result was a flailing motion as he fell back against the arm of the couch. “I’m good at a lot of things, but I don’t think I’d be good without you. Don’t want to be anything without you.”
She blinked in confusion, brushing his hair out of his face. “What are you talking about, Doctor? You’re not without me. I’m not going anywhere, not for a long time.”
He sat up, gripping her hand tightly, his face filled with solemnity. “Yes you are. You’re going to realize that I’m just so daft, broken old half alien who’s got nothing to offer you, you’re gonna get your wits back, and you’re gonna leave my sorry arse behind.”
She shook her head, cupping his face and forcing his eyes to stay on hers. “I’ll do no such thing. Doctor, I love you. And it’s not just out of obligation, or because you used to be able to take me through time and space. I love you, and all the madness that comes with that.”
Hope warred with the distress in his eyes. “Yeah?”
“Yes,” she half laughed, half cried, pulling him close to press a fierce kiss against his lips. She pulled back, tasting the burn of alcohol on her tongue. “What brought this up, then? I don’t think I’ve flirted with any other pretty boys lately.”
His soppy smile faded away, replaced with the mournful seriousness again. “It’s terrible, Rose. Worst thing to happen since… since… since the last very very bad thing.”
Panic and training kicked in with the acceleration of her heartbeat. “What is it? What’s happened?”
“I have,” he moaned, turning away from her and pointing to a spot on the back of his head, “a gray hair.”
She leaned forward, squinting closely. Sure enough, a single silver strand nestled in against the brown surrounding it. She swallowed a laugh, gentle fingers combing through his hair before they closed around the strand. She jerked quickly, pulling it loose, and tossed it somewhere over her shoulder. “There, see? All better.”
He turned back to her and she had to catch him by the shoulder to keep him from tumbling off the couch. His eyes were round and huge, staring at her like she’d just managed to save the universe. “Rose Tyler, you are absolutely brilliant!”