Building a Planetarium so we can study the night sky

Exciting challenge
for Bishop Monkton

Chris at work on the 1979 projector

Bishop Monkton astronomer Chris Higgins is busier than ever, adding to his previous activities by also working now as one of a three man volunteer team on the latest phase of creating a Planetarium and Heritage Craft Centre at Grewelthorpe.

The aim is to have the planetarium finished in time for a grand opening in the late 2020.

In addition to helping get the building completed, fitted out and decorated, Chris has landed himself with the job of getting a rather antiquated projector up and running so it can project the an accurate portrayal of the night sky onto the roof of the dome. 

The quaint looking machine was passed down to them by Wynyard Planetarium in the North East when it became redundant there when they were lucky enough to be given a new projector by Jodrell Bank.

The antiquated,  projector, made up with scores of moving parts and looking as if it might have been used by Dr Who, was built in Tokyo and a big problem was that it came with no manual to guide Chris how to get it back in top working order again.

Tracing an old manual in Tokyo

Luckily Chris used to work in Tokyo and so contacted some of his friends there to ask if they could help in anyway.  They in turn located the factory where the projector was made (and is still in operation) and asked if they still had a manual for the 1979 model.

By luck they located one in a dusty cupboard, got someone to translate the instructions into English, which they duly sent back to Chris which is now his ‘bible’.

The Planetarium and Heritage Craft Centre, the vision of Peter and Irene Foster, is located at Lime Tree Earth & Sky and was established as a brand new Community Interest Company in 2018.

Within the 40 acre site there are many unique features including a stone circle, an Iron Age roundhouse, a scale model of the solar system, two astronomical observatories, dipping ponds, a bird hide, a badger set (with CCTV) and a wide range of sculptures.

The latest project involves converting an old barn into a multi-use space for all types of activities focussing on nature and traditional handicrafts. The indoor area will have spinning wheels and looms, and two outdoor areas will be for rope making, pole lathe and woodland skills and will also have a blacksmith’s forge.

At its centre there will be a six metre fully immersive theatre which can be used as a classroom, lecture theatre but primarily as a planetarium.


Studying the sky at night

When the planetarium is completed an audience of about 25 will be able to sit in the theatre and see and study the sky at night. A nice opportunity for Bishop Monkton groups to take part.

Local companies and individuals are supporting the project and a number, including Kebbell, have provided building materials free of charge or made donations.

Lime Tree Farm Earth and Sky is already patronised by various groups making  use of its existing observatories and other attractions, and more are expected when the planetarium is fully operational.  Watch here for updates as the build progresses.

More information can be gained by logging on to

Chris will be taking a break from planetarium building during the upcoming North Yorkshire Dark Skies Festival (February 14 to March 1,  2020).  Chris is involved in leading or helping at several events across the Dales and Moors. 

Further details of where you can book onto an event at or search for Dark Skies Festival.

The 1979 projector 

The Mars element

Chris working with a telescope.