Reticulum and Richard Feynman

29th Sep 2016

reticulum-chart-xx-johann-bode-uranographiaI was scratching around in Reticulum last night. It’s a lovely binocular constellation – small, compact and full of colourful stars. Yellow and orange stars mostly, with one or two red and blue stars, and a lovely field of isolated stars just east of Alpha Reticuli.

While I was lingering in it with the binos, enjoying the view with a nice cup of early-morning tea (it was around 2:30 am), I was thinking about Richard Feynman’s bird-watching anecdote –

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Small Magellanic Cloud

24th Sep 2016


I can’t observe the Small Magellanic Cloud without thinking of Henrietta Swan Leavitt – ‘the woman who discovered how to measure the Universe’, as George Johnson, author of the book Miss Leavitt’s Stars, put it.

After all, it was from stars in the Small Magellanic Cloud that Leavitt discovered the period-luminosity relation of Cepheid variables that gave astronomers an incredible new measuring tool with which they could work out the distance to any Cepheid variable. The repercussions

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Heroes and a Handful of Stars

19th Sep 2016


This solo stargazing journey into the Kalahari is without question the single best thing I have ever done for myself. One seldom has time to just go with the flow of what arrests your interest, and then to linger in the moment, becoming aware of the being that sits behind your persona. And musing about the people who helped shape it.

But out here, that is what observing the moon each night has been all about; a time of

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Hyenas and a wolf named Lupus

10th Sep 2016

I’ve just finished reading a wonderful book – Hyena Nights and Kalahari Days by Gus and Margie Mills. It is the hyena book for hyena lovers – an extraordinary insight into the lives of these fascinating and beautiful animals. It really is a must-read for anyone who loves hyenas, or loves the Kalahari, or loves both.

In 1972 Gus and Margie, newly married, came to the Kalahari to study the little-known brown hyena. So enchanted were they

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Pals in the Kalahari

Pal 12 Hubble

When you’re using a 10” telescope to find globular clusters that, with the exception of two, required a 48-inch Schmidt camera to ferret them out – and that the astronomers who identified them include Edwin Hubble, Milton Humason, Walter Baade, Halton Arp, Fritz Zwicky, and George Abell – you know they are going to be an ocular and mental challenge.

The intriguing 15 Palomar globular clusters were discovered on the survey plates of the first

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Baobabs, Time and Horologium


I have a baobab growing in a big clay pot. I was given him when I was living in Kleinmond, just outside Cape Town. He was a small, leafless, dormant twig, about 20 cm tall. Baobabs live in very dry, very hot, very sunny climates – Cape Town has dark, cold, rainy, windy, dismal winters. I nurtured him through eight of them… which meant spending an inordinate amount of time putting on and removing his raincoat and his

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