IF THE sky is clear after sunset on any evening this coming week, and if you have a clear view to the south west, without any fells, tall buildings or trees in the way, then you have a chance of seeing a familiar celestial friend returning to the sky, writes STUART ATKINSON.

Venus is often called Earth's Twin because it is similar in size and composition to our own planet, but that is where the similarity ends. It is a world with acid for rain, a curdled soup of choking, poisonous gases for air, and space probe crushing pressure on its surface. Ironically, its proximity to Earth and its thick atmosphere makes it shine brighter than any other planet in our sky, lantern-bright in fact. At Christmas Venus will be a dazzling evening star blazing high in the west after dark, but at the moment it's nowhere near as bright or as high. However, if your view to the SW is favourable then you might see it shining low in the sky in that direction as soon as the sky begins to darken.

Another planet is close to Venus. The biggest world in our solar system, Jupiter, is currently shining just to Venus' left. It was brighter and easier to see in the summer, when it dominated the evening sky.

If you live somewhere blessed with a dark sky, unspoiled by light pollution, be sure to look for the Milky Way arching overhead on any clear nights this week. Like Jupiter it is past its best now, but still well worth a look, especially through a pair of binoculars, which will show you the Milky Way's misty trail is actually millions and millions of tiny stars packed so close together they look like smoke or mist.