"Few there are who realize that Carleton has on its campus an observatory
which is nationally known for the work it has done for the
advancement of astronomical knowledge."
CARLETONIAN EDITORIAL, 1927
Still fewer there are today - at Carleton or elsewhere - who realize the historical importance of the silver domes of Goodsell Observatory and the College's astronomy program. Goodsell and the activities it housed contributed greatly to the early self-confidence of an otherwise average young school, inspiring student doggerel and the naming of the student annual. Indeed, astronomy played no small part in bringing attention and recognition to the young prairie college in Northfield, Minnesota. Most importantly, the observatory and the notable astronomers who directed it played a substantial role in the history of astronomy in the United States.
From the 1870s until the Second World War the Carleton observatory was among the best and most prominent in the United States. It set time for all the major railroads from Chicago to Seattle. It published the leading astronomical journals in the country. It was home to one of the nation's first state weather services. Its astronomers published articles in both popular and scientific magazines. Its celestial photographs were widely sought.
By the 1930s, giant reflecting telescopes in the Western mountains had irrevocably superseded the smaller coastal and prairie instruments of the East and Midwest. But even without global name recognition, the astronomy program at Carleton has remained vital. From the earliest days, its central purposes have included, of course, excellent undergraduate instruction. The advanced research of the faculty has been a way to involve upper-level students in the rigors and complexities of astronomical science. Moreover, from the start the astronomers at Goodsell have been keenly interested in educating the broader public-through lectures, viewing nights, and other community service activities.
These goals have not only survived Goodsell's decline as a prominent research observatory, they have been revitalized. As Carleton College has become a national institution, the astronomy program has not only kept pace, it has kept a unique place.