IN LATE July Mars will be closer to us - and therefore will look brighter in our sky - than it has done since 2003, and you can expect to hear a lot about it here at that time, STUART ATKINSON. However, it is already very bright, and a very striking object to the naked eye, if you're out at the right time.

At the moment, the 'right time' is after midnight, because the Red Planet is rising around then, looking like a bright star rising up from behind the south-eastern horizon. When you see it you'll notice straight away that it is more of an orange colour than a ruby or garnet red, so that nickname is a little misleading, but it definitely has a ruddy tinge to it. Although Mars will catch the eye as it rises, if you go and look for it at 1am or later you will actually have a better view because by then the planet will have climbed clear of the murk and haze that lingers above the horizon and will look much more impressive. By 2.30am Mars is the brightest point of light in the sky, far brighter than any other planet or star. As dawn approaches and the sky begins to brighten Mars will fade, of course, but will remain easily visible to the naked eye until just before sunrise.

You might have heard on the news that a huge dust storm is raging on Mars at the moment, which is causing problems for one of the rovers exploring the planet. We're all crossing our fingers that it survives - and that the dust storm has blown itself out by the time Mars is at its closest, or else it will ruin the view through our telescope.