ASTRONOMERS in South Gloucestershire are hard to come by. With no space station in sight and Jodrell Bank hundreds of miles away, it may come as something of a surprise to find a local astronomer based in Rudgeway. Gazette reporter Alex Ross visited the village's very own star gazer to find out more.

BRINGING the planets of the universe into your own back garden is a boyhood dream for many.

For one Rudgeway man, however, that dream has come true.

In his small garden - beside the greenhouse, shrubs and blooming vegetable patch - a dazzling observatory dome proudly sits.

Similar, yet much smaller, than those seen in Florida or Greenwich, the observatory contains a huge telescope that, its owner says, can focus on any planet as far away as Neptune - depending on good weather of course.

All of a sudden the universe does not seem a million miles away from South Gloucestershire.

"This is my beauty," says space-fanatic Michael Pilsworth.

The 58-year-old, of Briarleaze, bought the telescope, which measures 15 inches in diameter, and observatory featuring a rotating roof for nearly £10,000 two years ago.

Blaming a cereal box feature for his obsession, Mr Pilsworth says he had no choice but to invest in the lucrative tools following a healthy retirement pay-out from plastics factory Rexam, of Yate.

"The chance to buy the observatory was a once in a life time opportunity, I had to take it," he says.

"It has developed my interest in astronomy which all started when I used cardboard cut outs from the back of cereal boxes to view star formations.

"From being able to see Mars with smaller telescopes I can now see clear surface features on Mars and the rings of Saturn. Its fascinating."

The observatory, which can be compared to a child's garden tree house, is kitted out with books, cushions and heated insulation to make overnight viewing more comfortable.

"To have this is a boyhood dream to me," he laughs.

The interest, Mr Pilworth says, has led him to run local astrological groups, spend hours at a time viewing the stars and lose a marriage.

"This is something I love," he admits. "I find it amazing how big our universe is and what we can see if we open our eyes to it.

"I must admit that when I started looking into space it used to scare me, but now it drives me to want to know more."

Mr Pilworth, whose hero is television presenter and astrologer Patrick Moore, now hopes the observatory will drive a hobby into a career.

"I am doing lectures in Bristol in astronomy, answering people's questions on the planets and am hoping to soon appear on radio or in newspapers.

"It is amazing how much people can see if they know what to look at."