ON THE next clear evening, look to the east as soon as it starts to get dark and you'll notice a bright orangey-red star just above the horizon. This is the red planet, Mars, and it's currently looking at its brightest and most striking for a few years, due to its proximity to the Earth. It can actually appear much, much brighter than it does now, but it's still looking pretty impressive at the moment.

When Mars is this close small telescopes show fascinating detail on its surface - blue-white ice caps at its poles, dark brown-grey dust plains surrounded by orange deserts, cotton wool clouds over the peaks of its Everest-dwarfing volcanoes - but even a your binoculars will enhance its colour and brightness for a stunning view. For a closer view, go online and you can see images taken on Mars by a pair of robot rovers, often taken just a few hours earlier.

Cross your fingers for the clouds to clear at dusk on Monday, April 14. As the sunset fades in the west, Mars and a gorgeous bloated Full Moon will be rising close together opposite them, in the east, and as the sky darkens they will make a striking pair as they climb higher and higher.

Stuart Atkinson,

Eddington Astronomical Society of Kendal