Book Review: The Caldwell Objects

Joe Shuster

It's not unusual for me to do things in an odd order. Sometimes, I like to have dessert before a meal instead of afterwards. But when I asked for Stephen O'Meara's book "Deep-Sky Companions - The Caldwell Objects" for Christmas last year, I wasn't trying to be unorthodox. I knew the O'Meara had written a book about Messier objects, but with a false sense of sophistication, I presumed I didn't need to know about those pedestrian objects. So I reached for the "next generation" list of deep-sky objects.

However, after reading O'Meara's engaging book on the Caldwell objects, I've decided I need his accounts of the objects on the Messier list just as much as I need his account of Patrick Moore's list. I'll finish that book eventually, but in the meantime, out of order, let me share my impression of O'Meara's second book associated with amateur deep-sky lists.

As Tom Mathieson described at the March meeting, the Caldwell list was developed by Patrick Moore (formally: Sir Patrick Alfred Caldwell-Moore) as a globe-spanning list of challenging deep-sky objects that didn't qualify for Messier's list. O'Meara does a good job of describing the nearly inadvertent style of Moore's selection of objects and the special characteristics that make the Caldwell list interesting. But the bulk of the book is an object-by-object description and analysis.

Surprisingly, O'Meara manages to do this without any sense of monotony. Each object description includes other references to the object, its early observations by William Herschel and others, a description of the object's area of the sky and of course, the object - both a scientific and observational description. O'Meara includes his personal familiarity with the object using a variety of scopes. Of course, he's somewhat spoiled by his prime location in Hawaii and his access to virtually all the Caldwell objects. In addition to his excellent location, he has excellent gear and a lot of experience. So when you read some of his comments, you need to remember that he isn't viewing from a suburban neighborhood with a nearby photomaniacal car dealer with a mid-level telescope.

O'Meara's style keeps the book moving very well and of course, you can pick up the book and put it down without any trans-chapter suspense! The book includes pictures, and finder charts. Some of the objects have drawings showing the real telescope view, not just the long exposure CCD photos. The two biggest weaknesses of the book seem to be the lack of color photos and the weakness of the finder charts. To me, the charts seem too wide to suit a star-hopper and there isn't enough labeling of key objects mentioned in the text. But these are small complaints (especially for a go-to aficionado like me!).

O'Meara includes suggestions on objects to view while you're "in the neighborhood" of the objects, some comments about Moore and Messier and subtle observational tips embedded in the object descriptions. For example, he discusses how his personal impression of objects has changed over the years

Published in the April 2004 issue of the NightTimes