IF YOU are up and about before dawn breaks on New Year's Day you can see something very striking low in the south eastern sky - a pair of bright, naked eye planets having a close encounter of the celestial kind, writes STUART ATKINSON.

On that morning the planets Jupiter and Mars will be just five Moon widths apart, which means they'll look like a very pretty, wide, 'double star' in the sky to the naked eye. If you have a pair of binoculars they should show you the two planets shining close together in the same field of view. How do you tell which planet is which? Jupiter, on the left, will be by far the brighter of the two, brighter than any star in the sky. Mars, looking a lot fainter, will lie to the upper right of Jupiter.

If you have a pair of binoculars you should definitely use them on this planetary rendezvous. Not only will they make the planets look brighter and more striking, they'll enhance their colours too: Jupiter will look like a bright, vivid blue-white spark, while Mars will shine with a subtle orange hue. Your binoculars will also show you some of Jupiter's family of 64 moons shining close to it, looking like tiny stars.

The two planets will be at their closest on the morning of January 7, when they'll be less than half a Moon's width apart.