The Most Offensive Phrase To a Telescope Operator – Editorial

As a telescope operator, both in a professional and amateur setting, we take pride in knowing what is visible in the sky at any given moment. Whether it’s a well known naked eye level object, or a celestial sight that needs a telescope to be visible, we can always demonstrate a telescope’s true capabilities to any visitor.

But if you ever visit an observatory, or look through someone’s personal telescope, there is a phrase that you should never say unless you’re asking to test our patience:

“Is That It?”

What I’m thinking when it get’s said!

Now, I understand that people who ask this question don’t have a realistic expectation of what a telescope can show. People expect their view through a telescope to be just like the Hubble quality images they’ve seen. They expect stars to show spikes, nebulae to show color, galaxies to show structure, and faraway planets to show amazing detail.

While it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re illiterate, it’s up to people like us to demonstrate the telescope’s true capabilities through the human eye versus a camera.

Whether the object looks good through a telescope or not, people like me can always find things to be excited over. “Oh, cool, it’s a galaxy 50 million light years away!” “Oh, awesome, this cluster has thousands of stars!” “I can see this object despite the conditions, that’s pretty cool!” Plus when you know the scientific details behind the object, it helps you enjoy it even more no matter what object it is.

When it’s your job to point your telescope at the most impressive object(s) to show to the public for the evening, the last thing you want to do is set the patron up for disappointment. However, more times than not, the conditions of the sky restrict me to just the brightest objects… not necessarily the best.

Unfortunately, people do not take into account the conditions due to their super high expectations. Instead, no matter what you try, they only listen with their eyes and not their ears.

Let’s go over some scenarios where “Is that It?” is usually said.

Scenario 1 – It’s still daytime!

When I do public viewing in the Summer, the Sun doesn’t go down until around 8pm, and thus the sky doesn’t get fully dark until after 9. Unless the Moon is out, the only other options I’m left with are the Sun (which I need a filter for, and looks boring without Sunspots) , a bright enough star like Arcturus or Vega, and sometimes Venus or Jupiter.

Not very many people appreciate the fact that a telescope was able to get the light from that object and still show it when you can’t see it with the naked eye during the day.

“Is That It?” “It’s Just One Star?”

What I say: “yes, all stars appear as single points of light.”
What I Am Thinking: “I’m sorry, is your view of a distant star light years away not good enough for you considering the Sun is still up?”

“Is That It? Just White?” “Is It Better To See This At Night?” 

What I say: “Yes, the sky is too bright right now for more details.
What I Am Thinking: “No shit, Sherlock!?”

Scenario 2 – It’s Cloudy!

Nights where I deal with poor weather are a crapshoot. Sometimes the clouds allow bright objects to shine through, other times they don’t. Once again, I’m limited to the same kinds of celestial sights I’m limited to if the Sun were still out.

Once again, I always encounter people who don’t appreciate when a telescope CAN show something despite the weather

“Is That It? Just One Star?”

What I say: “Yes, that’s all that’s visible…”
What I Am Thinking: “Can you see that star with the naked eye? Can you see any other interesting things in the sky? Just be happy I can show you a star while it’s cloudy out!”

“Is That It? It Looks Faded/Blurry!”

What I say: “I can’t do anything about the clouds.”
What I Am Thinking: “Did you forget, or are you too ignorant to look up and realize that there’s a cloud blocking all the details?”

Scenario 3 – A Decent Normal Night

“Is That It? Is It Just a Bunch Of Stars? 

What I say: “Well that IS what a star cluster is, what did you expect to see!”

“Is that it? This doesn’t look like Mars”

What I say: “Yup, it’s too far away to show any details… ”
What I Am Thinking: “Welcome to the club of disappointed patrons who looked at the real Mars… and people wonder why we avoid Mars like the plague. ”

“Is that it? Can’t you make this look bigger?” 

What I say:  “The conditions of the atmosphere prevent this. It won’t look better, it’ll look blurrier!”
What I Am Thinking:  “Tell me again how much you paid for free viewing?”

These are just a handful of examples. If you say the phrase, “Is That It?” to a telescope operator/owner, people like us consider it an insult.

There’s ways to be nice about it, and in return we’re happy to explain what they’re truly seeing.

 Even when we know the object may look disappointing, we can always find ways to hype up the object we’re showing, because we can always appreciate what we’re seeing. But when we’re forced to show what we feel are below average celestial sights, you uttering those three words is just testing our patience.

However, when it’s an object that we know looks impressive due to the countless reactions I see from people, you uttering those words shows ignorance, egotistical expectations, and obvious lack of interest in what you’re actually seeing.



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2 thoughts on “The Most Offensive Phrase To a Telescope Operator – Editorial

  1. I have noticed the number of wows is proportional to the brightness and size of the object. If it’s faint, they tend to move on quickly but I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone just say “Is that it?”- I would certainly consider that impolite.


    1. You obviously haven’t dealt with the public in Los Angeles, haha! Sure it doesn’t get asked very often, but when it does get said… especially when dealing with less than ideal conditions to show people something… you definitely get why we’d consider it an insult.


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