Book Review: Pearls of the Southern Skies by Dieter Willasch and Auke Slotegraaf

by DerdriuMarriner

Pearls of the Southern Skies by Dieter Willasch and Auke Slotegraaf uses images and text to tell which southern hemisphere season best shows each of 71 beautiful deep-sky objects.

Southern skies are less cluttered nightly than northern

Pearls of the Southern Skies advances knowledge of 71 photogenic deep-sky objects by way of a 176-page journey to exotic star clusters, nebulae and galaxies visible by naked eye or through use of binoculars and telescopes to viewers in the southern hemisphere. It begins with Central Michigan University Physics Professor Axel Mellinger’s spectacular image of the southern Milky Way’s arching from Sagittarius to Canis Major showcasing such asterisms (star patterns) and constellations (star sets) as:
• Antares;
• Coal Sack;
• Dark Horse;
• Diamond, False, Southern crosses;
• Eta Carinae, Lagoon, Running Chicken nebulae;
• Large Sagittarius, Norma, Small Sagittarius, Scutum star clouds;
• Omega Centauri;
• Pointers;
• Southern Pleiades; and
• Southern Right Angle.

It then correlates most spectacular objects with best seasonal view-times.




Astronomy defines the Southern sky as the half of the celestial sphere which is south of the celestial Equator:

The Earth's axial tilt is responsible for the celestial Equator's inclination by 23.4° with respect to the ecliptic plane.
Axial tilt (or Obliquity), rotation axis, plane of orbit, celestial equator and ecliptic: Earth viewed from Sun
Axial tilt (or Obliquity), rotation axis, plane of orbit, celestial equator and ecliptic: Earth viewed from Sun

Southern skies claim beautiful clusters, constellations, galaxies, nebulae


Seven spring-time, 29 summer-time, 16 fall-time, and 19 winter-time entries describe:

  • catalog designations, popular nicknames, proper names;
  • celestial appearance, coordinates, types;  and
  • discovery data.

They earmark associated constellations:

  • Antlia, Aquarius, Ara;
  • Canis Major, Carina, Centaurus, Cetus, Circinus, Corona Australis, Crux;
  • Dorado;
  • Eridanus;
  • Fornax;
  • Grus;
  • Hydra;
  • Musca;
  • Norma;
  • Ophiucus;
  • Pavo, Puppis;
  • Sagittarius, Scorpius, Sculptor, Serpens;
  • Tucana; and
  • Vela.

Spring therefore finds for:

  • galaxies (Black-bottomed or Milkweed Seed NGC 247 12,900,000 light-years away, Caroline’s NGC 253 12,900,000 light-years away, Fornax Dwarf 450,000 light-years away, Sculptor or Southern Pinwheel NGC 300 6,400,000 light-years away, Small Magellanic Cloud NGC 292 190,000 light-years away, String of Pearls NGC 55 6,000,000,000 light-years away); and
  • globular clusters (47 Tucanae NGC 104 15,000 light-years away). 


Southern Pinwheel Galaxy, also known as Messier 83, M83, or NGC 5236, is visible with binoculars:

On February 23, 1752, French astronomer Abbé Nicolas Louis de La Caille (December 28, 1713 – March 21, 1762) discovered the barred spiral galaxy at the Cape of Good Hope.
Acknowledgment: William Blair (Johns Hopkins University)
Acknowledgment: William Blair (Johns Hopkins University)

Southern skies exalt dwarves, giants, holes, neutrons, proto-stars


The four-season gallery gives way to six appendices with:

  • deep-sky object categories;
  • identification charts;
  • image details;
  • name index; and
  • object indices of catalog designations and proper names.

The first-mentioned appendix heads stellar life cycles from hydrogen gas clouds through glowing proto-stars into:

  • blue hyper-giants to black holes or neutron stars;
  • suns to white dwarves;
  • red dwarves to white dwarves; or
  • brown dwarves.

Two appendices inform on:

  • bright nebulae of background dust clouds or ionized hydrogen plasma;
  • bright planetary nebulae of low-mass stars evolving into red giants to red super-giants to white dwarves;
  • bright planetary nebulae of high-mass stars evolving into supernova remnants to black holes or neutron stars; and
  • dark nebulae of carbon monoxide and hydrogen molecules. 


Milky Way Galaxy and the pōhutukawa (Metrosideros excelsa), also known as New Zealand Christmas tree

Okato, Taranaki, western North Island, New Zealand
Okato, Taranaki, western North Island, New Zealand

Southern skies get gravitation-bound galaxies, groups, clusters, super-clusters


Two appendices juxtapose images and information on:

  • different-aged, different-composed globular clusters 1,000,000,000 to 13,000,000,000 years old; and
  • same-aged, same-composed open clusters 1,000,000 to 10,000,000 years old.

A final appendix kindles enthusiasm for space addresses by situating Earth within the Ukrainian doll-type series of:

  • gravitation-bound within the Milky Way within the Local Group within the Virgo Cluster; and
  • non-gravitation-bound within the Virgo Super-cluster.

So Pearls of the Southern Skies leads readers on culturally enriching, educationally entertaining, galactically enthralling journeys amid the clustered, nebulous, stellar, super-clustered night-time heavens of Earth’s southern hemisphere, thanks to:

  • Firefly Books, publisher and translator;
  • Internationale Amateursternwarte Hakos Gästefarm (International Amateur Observatory, Hakos Mountain Range Guest Farm), Namibia;
  • Auke Slotegraaf, author; and
  • Dieter Willasch, photographer. 


Pearls of the Southern Skies by Auke Slotegraaf ~ photos by Dieter Willasch ~ available via Amazon

A rare look at the southern skies' greatest glories. The Southern Hemisphere's celestial objects are fascinating to astronomers everywhere, with exotic names like Omega Centauri, Tarantula Nebula, Canopus, Vela Supernova, Coal Sack, and Magellanic Clouds.
Southern Hemisphere astronomy



My special thanks to:

  • Talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the Internet;
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University for superior on-campus and on-line resources.


Eta Carinae is surrounded by Homunculus Nebula, a bipolar (bi-lobed) reflection nebula which in turn is embedded with the Eta Carinae nebula ~

Image was taken through red and near-ultraviolet filters to capture the dynamic range of central star glaring 100,000 times more brightly than the faint outer ejecta blobs.
Hubble's Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2), September 1995
Hubble's Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2), September 1995

Sources Consulted


Willasch, Dieter; and Slotegraaf, Auke. 2014. Pearls of the Southern Skies: A Journey to Exotic Star Clusters, Nebulae and Galaxies. Translated from the German text Published in 2012 by Oculum-Verlag GmbH. Buffalo, NY, U.S.A.: Firefly Books Inc.; and Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada: Firefly Books Ltd. 


Eta Carinae nebula: never visible north of 30°North latitude; visible circumpolar south of 30°South latitude ~

Namesake blinding star at nebula's center has mass 100 times that of Earth's Sun; the star's infrared light destroys particles of nebular dust, sculpting cavities and leaving pillars of denser material pointing back to the star
The tortured clouds of Eta Carinae: view from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope
The tortured clouds of Eta Carinae: view from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

Orion 10015 StarBlast 4.5 Astro Reflector Telescope (Teal) ~ Available now via Amazon ~ This is one of the telescopes I happily use to scan the skies!

Great compact grab-and-go telescope for entry-level and intermediate astronomy enthusiasts *4.5 inch aperture + fast f/4 focal ratio for bright detailed views of solar system targets (Moon, planets) + wide-field celestial objects (nebulas, star clusters)

Southern Hemisphere Star Chart: serigraph by Brainstorm ~ available via AllPosters

Southern Hemisphere Star Chart
Ad AllPosters

Orion 09798 StarBlast 4.5 Equatorial Reflector Telescope, Metallic Green ~ Available now via Amazon

Fast f/4 optics and short focal length provide very wide field of view, making it easy to locate celestial objects without having to hunt around EQ-1 equatorial telescope mount makes tracking night-sky objects easy using included slow motion controls.

Me and my purrfectly purrfect Maine coon kittycat, Augusta "Gusty" Sunshine

Gusty and I thank you for reading this article and hope that our product selection interests you; Gusty Gus receives favorite treats from my commissions.
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved.
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved.
Updated: 07/06/2015, DerdriuMarriner
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