The New Unabridged LCAS Observer's Dictionary

Jack Kramer

A few years ago, we published a list of various terms that are frequently heard when a group of amateur astronomers gets together. Apparently, this struck a responsive chord among other amateur groups, and our dictionary was reprinted in a few other newsletters around the country. Then in June 1993, this dictionary was published in Sky & Telescope magazine. There soon followed letters from readers of S&T who offered some new definitions to add.

Over the intervening years, there have continually been further additions. We now have many newer members who have never been exposed to the entire unmittigated LCAS Observer's Dictionary so storied in song and fable. Therefore it's high time we reprinted the entire dictionary so that there can be no misunderstandings when people begin speaking "astro-talk". (We also needed a fairly lengthy article for this month's issue of NighTimes.) For newcomers to LCAS, you should know that commiting this dictionary to memory is one of the requirements of membership. Don't go anywhere without it!

(n) - a failed visual observer who surrounds himself/herself with piles of slides and prints containing light smudges of questionable identity.
averted imagination
(n) - 1. a condition where an observer knows an object is in the field of view and thereby convinces himself that he is seeing it.
(adj) - referring in a politically-correct sense to any observer who owns only a small telescope.
(n) - 1. a person who owns more than one telescope. 2. Variously spelled as BIGamist when one of the telescopes is a light bucket (which see).
big dob
(n) - 1. a very large dobsonian-mounted telescope (also see light bucket ) 2. (proper name) - Steve McAllister's CB handle.
(n) - 1. any object with a shape that's difficult to define, as in "I can see a faint blob " or "That little blob is Halley's Comet?" (also see smudge )
blob snob
(n) - a mutated form of a smudge hunter, recognized by claiming to have vision far more acute than all others around him/her; often seen observing squat nebulae, as in "that blob snob has a bad case of wishful seeing."
class glass
(n) - refers to any especially good optical components, as in "That apochromat is class glass ".
cloud bait
(n) - any new piece of gear taken to an observing site for the first time.
clouds from hell
(n) - phrase denoting a condition where clouds appear from nowhere and soon cover the entire sky. Use of this phrase is generally followed with profanity.
(v) - to share in another observer's misery in not being able to observe due to miserable weather, as in "What miserable weather this has been!"
commit astronomy
phrase meaning to "go observing".
(n) - a device to which a telescope is often attached.
(n) - a highly skilled mathematician/physicist who knows about as much of how the universe came to be as the average person on the street, but is usually better paid.
cruise control
(n) - a clock drive on a telescope mounting.
dew dads
(n) - water droplets that form on only the most crucial optical surfaces, as in "my corrector plate is a magnet for dew dads".
Dobsonian hole
(n) - the area of the sky directly overhead.
dob snob
(n) - an owner of a Dobsonian mounted telescope who considers it superior to all other surrounding telescopes, as in "that Dob snob fancies himself a master smudge hunter".
Dobsonian diving platform
(n) - a very tall, extremely unstable ladder used in conjunction with big Dobs.
(n) - (sometimes referred-to as alien) - any intelligent creature living "out there' who, after observing the Earth, wouldn't visit here in a billion years.
(n) - 1. (before 1980) an accessory designed to enlarge the image in a telescope; 2. (after 1980) an accessory designed to enlarge the profits of its distributor.
(n) - 1. a term used to describe a globular cluster that cannot be resolved.
fuzz finder
(n) - an observer who prefers to seek diffuse and planetary nebulae.
(n) - 1. refers to any object that appears indistinct, as in "Each field in the Virgo Cluster of Galaxies is full of little fuzzies ". 2. (adj) A less than salubrious psychomotor state, as in "After being up all night observing, I feel really fuzzy the next day". 3. fuzzy alert (interj.) - a notice to fellow astronomers that one has just detected an unknown faint object. (also see fuzzy definitions 1 and 2)
(interj.) - 1. an exclamation indicating that success has been achieved in locating an object, as in "Gotit! "
(adj) - 1. refers to a meteorlogical condition characterized by a pervasive layer of clouds, as in "The sky turned gunky just as we set up our telescopes." 2. (n) - gunk - the gunky stuff in the sky.
(v) - to cause tremors in the telescope as a means of spotting a faint object in the field of view, as in "Jiggle the telescope a bit and you'll just make out a faint blob (which see)."
light bucket
(n) - a really big telescope.
(interj.) - an exclamation used to inform other observers that if they had been looking skyward instead of peering through their telescopes, they would have seen a bright meteor. The word "where?" in response to this exclamation is generally considered superfluous. (see wow )
M0 (M zero)
(n) - attributed to or describing a cloudy sky through which no Messier objects can be seen, as in "All I saw was M0 ".
moocher astronomer
(n) - refers to an observer who comes out to an observing session without a telescope or binoculars of his or her own.
(n) - a special coating applied to eyepieces; often abbreviated as MC, in which case it may stand for multi-coating or mucho cash.
(v) - to achieve success in locating a difficult object with certainty, as in "I finally nailed NGC 2158". (see gotit)
(v) - meaning to slightly rotate a telescope about one of its axes, as in "Nudge the scope a bit in R.A.".
(interj.) - derivation obscure, but generally an exclamation of dismay indicating that one has just kicked the leg of one's tripod in the dark or broken someone else's thermos bottle, as in "Oops! ". Synonyms for this term may be found in a dictionary on profanity.
(adj) - refers in a politically-correct way to someone who does not own any telescope or binocular.
(n) - a temporary condition of blurred vision and tears when a behemoth eyepiece falls on your big toe.
(n) - Al Nagler's name for his parakeet.
perverted imagination
(n) - describing more than you can actually see in an eyepiece, just to pull the leg of a fellow observer.
photon hog
(n) - one who has become addicted to the sensation of ancient, speeding photons impinging on the retina, as in "that photon hog has taken over the big Dob."
(adj.) - describing a condition of excessive use of a CCD camera, as in "we'd better pull the plug before he becomes pixelated".
pixel puzzle
(n) - an unrecognizable image produced by a malfunctioning CCD camera.
Polaris pointer
(n) - a device often used by astronomers who never could find the North Star.
poor man's counterweight
(n) - a brick, rock, or similar weight used to remedy an out-of-balance scope, often held in place with duct tape.
(adj) - the quality of being smaller and lighter than the average refrigerator, as in "If this telescope is portable why does it take two people to move it?"
professional astronomer
(n) - a failed amateur astronomer.
retinal burn
(n) - a condition that occurs when one observes the Moon, Venus, or other very bright object for an excessive period of time.
rich man's counterweight
(n) - referring to any large, heavy, and expensive eyepiece, such as a Nagler, which is renowned for its ability to throw any telescope out of balance.
(n) - a language invented by Carl Sagan, characterized by containing the phrases "millions and millions" and "billions and billions", the latter phrase being more accurate when referring to his lecture fee.
(n) - a common telescope malady that usually manifests itself during high-power observing and/or long-exposure photography, characterized by an observed field which will not remain still. Shakes are often triggered by a persistent light wind or someone running into the mounting.
skosh or skoash
(adv) - 1. quantitatively referring to a small amount, as in "Aim your scope a skosh to the left of that star". (also see smidgin )
(n) - see skosh
(n) - a barely perceptible object, as in "The nebula looks like a faint smudge in the center of the field" (see blob)
smudge hunter
(n) - one who seeks out and is adept at locating fuzzies. Syn.: fuzz finder.
social disease
(n) - 1. refers to a condition experienced by astronomers where social commitments prevent them from getting out to observe. 2. You don't want to know.
squat nebula
(n) - an object that is impossible to see, as in "I can't see squat."
star party
(n) - an event guaranteed to bring on rain; extremely useful in breaking droughts, which has led to farmers allowing star parties to be staged in their fields during times of dry weather.
sucker hole
(n) - 1. a small break in an otherwise cloudy sky that dupes astronomers into thinking they have a shot at some very abbreviated observing. 2. sucker zone (n) - expands the concept to a larger open area in an otherwise cloudy sky; may inspire false hope until beset by total gunk (which see).
(n) - a disease common to amateur astronomers where the victim earnestly believes that if only his telescope optics were two inches larger, he could see all he ever wanted to see in the night sky and be happy forever.
wishful seeing
(n) - a condition where an observer is convinced that the skies at a site are so good that he/she can see any object, whether or not the object can, in fact, be seen.
(interj.) - exclamation to inform other observers that they just missed a beautiful meteor, as in "Wow!!! " (also see lookatthatmeteor )

Published in the December 1996 issue of the NightTimes