TO QUOTE a popular fantasy TV series, 'Winter is coming' - and some of the best-known stars and constellations of winter are already visible in the late evening, writes STUART ATKINSON. The familiar hourglass shape of Orion The Hunter, with his distinctive belt of three blue-white stars, can be seen rising in the east at around 9pm, by which time the constellation of Taurus - with its twin Hyades and Pleiades star clusters - is already high in the sky.

But wait a little longer and you will be able to see the brightest star in the whole sky rising up from the horizon. Sirius, also known as the Dog Star is now rising in the east at around 10pm and is clearly brighter than any and every other star in the sky. As it slides up into the sky it looks like a beautiful icy-blue sapphire, or diamond, glinting and flashing.

One reason Sirius is so bright is because it is - in cosmic terms - very close to us. Only 8.7 light years away, it is the fifth closest star to Earth, and physically is almost twice the diameter of our own Sun. It's much younger than our own star, though.

Sirius is named after the Greek word for 'searing' or 'scorching', and when you see it shining through the bare branches of the trees on a frosty winter's night you can see why.

Early risers are still being treated to the sight of Venus blazing in the east before sunrise. Much, much brighter than Sirius the Morning Star is visible from 5am right through until sunrise, looking like a beautiful silvery spark in the sky.