GSA wrap-up, and Goodsell Observatory

Tim and I started back home on Wednesday, with several planned stops along the way. Even with a long drive ahead of us, I did find time this morning to make it to one talk. Michael Zaleha looked at river-related sedimentary structures in the Early Cretaceous Cloverly Formation in Wyoming, such as the cross-bedding from the Big Horn Basin shown above. Among other things, he concluded that most of the structures indicated rivers that were 50-120 meters wide, 4-11 meters deep, and mostly flowing to the north-northeast.

After loading the truck, Tim and I headed south toward Northfield, Minnesota, with the hope of collecting at some of the Ordovician localities near there. Thunderstorms kept us off the outcrops, but we did find a few minutes to visit my alma mater, Carleton College, and get a picture of Goodsell Observatory:

Astronomy has an interesting history at Carleton. The third building on campus was a small wooden observatory completed in 1878, which stood a few hundred yards from this site. In those days, accurate timekeeping (which was particularly important to railroads) was primarily done by astronomical observatories. Within a few years, the Carleton Observatory was providing timekeeping services for almost all the railroads in the northwestern United States.

In 1888, a much larger brick observatory, Goodsell, was completed, although some equipment wasn’t installed until 1892. The 16.2-inch refracting telescope was the twelfth largest in the world at the time, and allowed expanded operations for both scientific observations and timekeeping. By the early 1900s Goodsell and the U. S. Naval Observatory were the only two observatories providing timekeeping services to U. S. railroads. Goodsell provided timekeeping for railroads until 1931, and continued the service for local businesses into the 1940s.

The observatory was also a significant research and teaching tool around the turn of the century. Carleton actually offered a major in astronomy; one of its graduates, Anne Sewell Young ’92, was one of a very small number of female professional astronomers at the time, and went on to become director of the Mount Holyoke Observatory. The department also published an astronomy journal, and had enough clout that Carleton’s annual was (and still is) named “The Algol“.

The astronomy department fell on hard times in the 1960s, and was almost eliminated entirely. Plans were made to tear down Goodsell to make way for a new student union. Fortunately, the astronomy program was saved by merging with the physics department, and Goodsell was placed on the National Registry of Historic Places, saving it from destruction. It is still active as a teaching and outreach observatory, and is still used for offices and classrooms; as a freshman I took calculus there.

Much of this information was obtained from Carleton’s Astronomy website.

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2 Responses to GSA wrap-up, and Goodsell Observatory

  1. Kim says:

    I took Linear Algebra there (from the geekiest professor ever). I love that building.

  2. Tom R says:

    I failed Calc II there. I think a senior geo major pointed out that I didn’t need it to be a non-pre-med bio major. Thank you Hillary, Sue, and/or Annemarie. also for the nickname

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