Deep-Sky Companions: Southern Gems

southern_gems_523x766Author: Stephen James O’Meara
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
ISBN: 978-1-107-01501-2
Price: £30 (Hb) 450pp

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From 1823 to 1826 James Dunlop completed over 40,000 observations and systematically catalogued over 7,300 stars, clusters and nebulae in Southern Hemisphere skies as seen from Brisbane. The work yielded several hundred discoveries of which 629 were subsequently published in A Catalogue of Nebulae and Clusters of Stars in the Southern Hemisphere by the Royal Society. Well known astronomer and writer Stephen James O’Meara has taken Dunlop’s opus as the basis for his survey of 120 objects. As someone who has spent time in Australia, I was keen to see if the author’s selection presented a good set of challenges for the observer.

Each entry is set out clearly. Where an affectionate name for an object such as ‘String of Pearls’ or ‘The Pin Cushion Cluster’ has been assigned, this heads up the entry. There then follows the NGC number, type, constellation and any measurements known such as dimensions, distance, magnitude, etc. With the assistance of diagrams, drawings of objects as observed and some photographs, the author free-wheels his own findings whilst at the same time giving superb advice for our programmes of observation. Appendices include a shortlist of 42 extra objects to observe and a history of Dunlop and his contemporaries.

O’Meara starts off with some easy to find objects before stepping up the ante to good effect at different junctures while still dropping in some wonderful entertainment – item 100 being the beautiful Lagoon Nebula for instance. The pick of the bunch for me are the barred spiral NGC 55 in Sculptor (item 1), the open cluster Melotte 105 in Carina (item 52), the Hamburger Galaxy in Centaurus (item 61) and the globular cluster NGC 5927 in Lupus (item 73).

I recommend this catalogue to all astronomers fortunate to live under the southern skies and to the rest of us who travel occasionally below the equator and have fleeting opportunities to view the splendours.

Reviewed by Ian Welland