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25 July 2014

THIS is unusual, if not unique: a woman priest who is also an amateur astronomer who has helped found an observatory in her parish, in Chester diocese.

The Vicar of High Legh, the Revd Jennifer Croft (left), is a Senior Research Fellow at Warwick University, was a medical scientist before she was ordained, and has had a lifelong interest in astronomy. Together with Mark Holmes, a graduate chemist who also got hooked on astronomy as a child, and has had it as a "serious hobby" ever since, she has founded the High Legh Community Observatory, with the help of a local steering group.

They have received grants from WREN, a not-for-profit environmental company; Cheshire East Council; and High Legh Parish Council. The land was offered by Tim and Janet Harrison, at Abbey Leys Farm, High Legh.

The observatory consists of a fenced area with a dome and warm room, and there is a Meade 6-inch refractor, a Meade 12-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain, and a 12-inch Newtonian telescope. The telescopes allow people to observe the sun safely, the moon, and the planets of the solar system, as well as deep space.

It is open to all, Miss Croft says, "and will help to promote science and astronomy. It will engage with the science-and-religion debate, and will work closely with both primary and secondary schools. It will help us explore the bigger questions of life and the universe. It is open to anyone of all abilities and ages."

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