The Caldwell Challenge

One fine day I received a note from Ilze Swart, who was Chief Librarian of Bellville Central Library for as long as I can remember. Ilze is still heavily involved with charity bookshops and many other interesting ventures. She knew about my passion for astronomy and when sourcing books she was always on the look-out for anything to do with astronomy.

The note read: I have some books at reception that you might be interested in. As always I did not let the grass grow under my feet. It was like going on a treasure hunt. There at reception was a box with my name on it. As usual I took the whole box, left my donation in an envelope, rushed home to see what Ilze had found.

Sometimes there were books that I already had.Those were most appreciated too, as I could share them with my friends. Sometimes there were wonderful children’s books. In the end I think I could officially claim that I had the most astronomy books in the Western Cape.

Anybody into Astronomy would know how I felt when at the bottom of this heap I saw The Caldwell Objects by Stephen James O’Meara – a book in such perfect condition, as if I had just purchased it from an exclusive book store. Ilze had discovered a great treasure.

Some may have seen me carting my 12″Dobsonian on its barrow wheels. For years this telescope has taken me on night sky adventures while becoming aquainted with the night sky. I have observed the most amazing objects but as you become more experienced there is a limitation to what you can observe through a standard newtonion without tracking.

Observing all the objects in a catalogue is a challenge but the major sense of achievement on completion always makes the effort worthwhile. At the very least I would have to complete the Messier catalogue to earn the badge of serious amateur astronomer. Charles Messier never observed the far-southern skies and so many beautiful objects never made it onto the list of 110 best objects.

Sir Patrick Moore came up with a catalogue of 109 objects, some visually stunning, some quite obscure but astro-physically intriguing (as James O’Meara put it). So I was quite happy to observe the stunning and read and see images about the obscure in my book until hey, wait…I’m a Slooh member now. I can set up missions to any object. One of the quests on Slooh’s website is: The Caldwell Challenge!

After completing my Messier Challenge Quest and quite a few more (22!!), writing an article for ASSA’s NightFall, pruning the garden, washing windows and preparing enough frozen meals to last for a while, I can now procede with the Caldwell Challenge.

Durbanville Children’s Home is one of the oldest children’s homes in South Africa, dating back to 1883. As a registered institution of care, they are currently tasked with looking after 144 children who were placed here by court orders
Their motto: All children have wings, we teach them how to fly.

Pale Blue Dot

Pale-blue-dotI have been searching for an out of print book for years. Every secondhand bookshop in my area had my phone number. I always hoped that someday someone would part with their copy. The internet took my search to a new level. Having received a watered down version of the original, I became a little sceptical about ordering second hand books online again.This puny paperback with no images or graphics is is just sitting unread on my bookshelf.

On the other side of the world, my niece is preparing for a school trip to Equador. As part of the project she has to work or come up with ideas to finance her trip. Just receiving handouts is a no-no. I came up with an idea. I challenged her to find the original 1994 first edition hard cover of the book.

Within two days she had sourced a copy and it was delivered to her doorstep in Folkstone, Kent. It boarded SAA with her and the rest of my family and arrived at my doorstep a few weeks later.

My heart was pounding as I opened the parcel. My niece had found a book in pristine condition, seemingly untouched. At last I had my own copy of Pale Blue Dot- a vision of the human future in space – by Carl Sagan.

“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us.
It is said that astronomy is a humbling and character building experience
To me it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known” – Carl Sagan