What happens when two galaxies collide? One destroys the other and it is not a pretty sight. Usually the vanquished galaxy is annihilated. Sometimes it is transformed into a galaxy of unusual shape — a donkey, a bird, a goat — and then flung far from its intended path. But the most interesting collision is not even a collision. It occurs when one galaxy passes close to a second and is ripped apart by gravitational forces. The remains of the first galaxy are then captured by the second and form a ring around it. The resulting structure is called a ring galaxy. They are rare cosmological entities, only a half-dozen are known to exist.
About 600 million light-years away in the constellation of Serpens lies Hoag's Object, a ring of hot blue stars that circles a nucleus of aging yellow stars. This ring galaxy is about 120,000 light-years in diameter, slightly larger than our own Milky Way. It formed two billion years ago when a young galaxy passed too close to an older one. The former was shredded into what amounts to a smoke ring in the heavens, circling its predator. It will eventually collapse upon the latter, but that will not happen for another billion years. The gap between the blue ring and the yellow core is completely dark. I have spent time there and it is an experience unlike any other. Above you lies the fading blue light of the ring, below the fiery yellow core. You are between Heaven and Hell. You yearn for the one, but the other fascinates as well.
I have made an amazing discovery. In the dark gap of Hoag's Object lies a second ring galaxy. A miniature ring. And within the gap of this galaxy lies a third ring galaxy and within its gap a fourth and so on. Each is an order of magnitude smaller than the previous. I hop from galaxy to galaxy for as long as I am able. Until they become smaller than my own self and I am reduced to a mere spectator. I watch as they fade into the distance, until they become indistinguishable from a point. A mathematician's point. At the end of every event, imagination takes over and this was no exception. Every point contains within itself a ring galaxy. My mind is an infinitude of points comprising the space that I inhabit. It is a ring galaxy.
Brian Biswas lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. His work has recently appeared in Perihelion, Story Shack, and Cafe Irreal. His short story, "A Betrayal," was published in Issue #11 of The Cafe Irreal (as well as in our print anthology, The Irreal Reader); "The Room at the End of the World" appeared in Issue #14; "The Bridge" appeared in Issue #18; "In the Garden" in Issue #33; "The Last Photon" in Issue #37; "It's Not What You Think It Is" in Issue #47; and "Prologue to an Imaginary Book" in Issue #59.