Over the next few weeks, Mars becomes increasingly conspicuous in the evening sky, reaching maximum brightness in March and April. For the present, it is necessary to be up fairly late to catch sight of the Red Planet. This week it rises at about 10 pm but you need to allow another couple of hours or so for it to gain height and clear the murk around the horizon. On the night of 27th/ 28th, the Moon rises about an hour before Mars and is positioned just above and to the right of Mars, in the constellation Virgo.

Mars reveals little by way of surface markings in binoculars. A modest sized amateur telescope is really required to see any detail. The Moon, however, is always a fascinating target for binoculars. It is particularly rewarding to scan the boundary region between the dark and light parts - what astronomers call "the terminator" - where long shadows emphasize peaks and valleys. Try looking on successive nights and observe the change in appearance as the boundary between lunar day and night creeps acros different surface features.

Jacqueline Mitton