Page Eight

Just as important as the equipment it acquired, the observatory also acquired the right man to make good use of the new instruments. Herbert Couper Wilson, who was a Carleton alumnus with a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of Cincinnati, was hired in 1887 to teach math, physics, and astronomy and to assist in the editorship of the Messenger. Like Payne, Wilson was a beloved teacher. He also was devoted to the popularization of astronomy-he wrote dozens of articles for popular magazines, was well-known for his lantern-slide lecture on a "Trip to the Moon," and later in his career was responsible for encouraging amateur astronomers to organize themselves (in 1911) into the American Association of Variable Star Observers. The AAVSO is still going strong and has maintained a loose connection to Carleton over the years: first through a regular column in Popular Astronomy and then in the person of Clinton B. Ford '35, who since 1948 has been the association's secretary and is the eponym of its permanent headquarters building in Massachusetts.

History of Goodsell Images

To a much greater extent than Payne, however, Wilson was also an active and excellent  practical and theoretical astronomer. It was Wilson who initiated and organized the Carleton observatory's first off campus expedition in 1889 to California to view and photograph a total solar eclipse. Such expeditions, several more of which occurred over the next decades, were scientifically important but quite expensive; only 10 other observatories had astronomers and equipment out in the field in '89. Carleton's expenses were reduced considerably when the party was invited to ride free on the rail lines that benefited from the time-service.

Even more important in placing Carleton in the forefront of astronomical research was Wilson's expertise with a camera. While a student at the Lookout Mountain Observatory, he became a practiced photographer. His plates of nebulae (galaxies), planets, and variable stars won him citations in leading monographs and were often requested by other astronomers for study and illustration. One of his photographs of a section of the Milky Way, using the 8 1 /4" refractor at the College, was presented by E. E. Barnard to the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1898 as "embracing all that has been done on this nebula by photography up to the present time." Wilson's photos of sunspots, asteroids, and the spectra of the sun's corona formed the bases of several of the Publications of the Goodsell Observatory, a series which he founded.

Other recognition came to Carleton astronomy in the 1890s as well. The school's display at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago was one-quarter astronomy, and it was for excellence in that science especially photography and spectroscopy that the College was awarded a "medal of specific merit." Colleagues at larger observatories, such as the famed Yerkes in Wisconsin, paid the compliment of asking Wilson and Payne to cooperate with them in special studies.


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