The primary astronomical facility at Grinnell College is the Grant O. Gale Observatory, located on the edge of the campus only a few minutes walk from the center of the campus and the dormitories ("CD" on the campus map). Because the town and the college generate relatively little light, the sky at this convenient location is dark enough to do demanding observing projects, such as spectroscopy of faint galaxies. Grinnell students can work on astronomy projects without the necessity of arranging transportation to an observatory at a dark site miles away from the lights of town.
The observatory was constructed in 1983 and houses a 24" (0.61m) Cassegrain reflecting telescope built by DFM Engineering. The telescope is completely computer-controlled. Instrumentation includes a spectrograph with both photodiode array and CCD electronic detectors, a sophisticated CCD camera system, two photoelectric photometers, and three video camera systems, two of which are equipped with image intensifiers. The observatory therefore supports all three of the major techniques used by observational astronomers: spectroscopy, imaging, and photometry.
Computers are used extensively at the observatory for both the acquisition and analysis of data. In addition to the computer system that controls the telescope, four Sun Microsystems UNIX computers are available for students' use at both the observatory and the science building. The software on these systems provides sophisticated image processing, graphics, and other data analysis capabilities.