Goodsell Observatory

On June 2, 2010, student pranksters transformed Goodsell Observatory into a giant replica of R2D2 (a character from the acclaimed Star Wars universe). Using a virtual scale model of Goodsell for precise measurements, the students painted butcher paper and bedsheets blue, black, and red, and attached them directly to the observatory. Photos and videos of the stunt went viral across the Internet, appearing on the Chronicles of Higher Education and Gawker’s io9 science fiction blog.

The students’ prank continues a long tradition of Carleton community members viewing Goodsell Observatory as a physical connection to space and “the great beyond.” William Wallace Payne, the founder of Carleton’s astronomy program, stated at the 1886 celebration of the laying of the new observatory’s cornerstone that “the methods of modern science” are for “revealing the harmonies of his sovereign divine will.”

Payne’s devotion to Carleton’s astronomy curriculum helped establish Goodsell Observatory as one of the premier institutions of its kind in the United States. Named for one of Carleton’s founders, Deacon Charles M. Goodsell, the Romanesque observatory was completed in 1889 and soon set time for all major railroads from Chicago to Seattle. Its astronomical photographs were highly sought, and Payne's published astronomy journals (the Sidereal Messenger, Astronomy and Astrophysics, and Popular Astronomy) were considered some of the best in the country.

Goodsell Observatory’s tenure as a leading institution in astronomy was eventually eclipsed in the mid-twentieth century by the rise of observatories with larger telescopes situated high atop mountains. Yet, its importance to college life has not diminished. Astronomy classes still use the building for laboratory studies, and the observatory holds a monthly open house where students and Northfield residents alike can more closely observe the moon, Jupiter, Saturn (and maybe even catch a glimpse of R2D2).

Images

R2D2 Makes an Appearance

R2D2 Makes an Appearance

Although student pranksters left a note promising that Goodsell "will magically revert to its original form if left alone," facilities workers quickly restored the observatory to its original state. | Source: The Voice: Spring 2011 View File Details Page

Goodsell on a Wintry Night

Goodsell on a Wintry Night

Open house stargazing occurs all months of the year. Only when skies are clouded are the sessions cancelled. | Source: Carleton College Admissions View File Details Page

Goodsell Observatory During Early 20th Century

Goodsell Observatory During Early 20th Century

ca. 1909 | Source: Carleton College Digital Archives View File Details Page

Charles M. Goodsell

Charles M. Goodsell

One of the founders of Carleton College, Charles M. Goodsell donated the first ten acres of what would grow into the 1,040 acres Carleton College now occupies. | Source: Carleton College Digital Archives View File Details Page

William Wallace Payne

William Wallace Payne

One student complimentarily (and cleverly) stated in regards to William Wallace Payne that, "One never knew pleasure who never knew Payne." | Source: Carleton College Digital Archives View File Details Page

Goodsell's Larger Telescope

Goodsell's Larger Telescope

When first installed, the observatory's telescope was the sixth largest in the United States and twelfth largest in the world. | Source: Carleton College Admissions View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Ben Weiss, “Goodsell Observatory,” NorthfieldHistorical, accessed April 24, 2017, http://northfieldhistorical.org/items/show/78.
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