STAR-GAZERS have been invited to voyage 800 million miles to take a close-up peek at Saturn.

The magnificent ringed planet is one of the stars of the show as the Forestry Commission stages its first nightwatch events of the year.

They take place in Chopwell Wood, near Gateshead, on Saturday, February 25, and at Hamsterley Forest, near Bishop Auckland, County Durham, on Saturday, March 4.

Sunderland Astronomical Society will bring powerful telescopes to spy on the icy world, making it seem hundreds of times closer.

There will be chance to glimpse glittering star clusters in the Milky Way, take a tour of the winter constellations and go into warp drive to view distant galaxies.

Chief recreation ranger Richard Gilchrist said: "Being in the forest and away from streetlights makes a massive difference.

"Stars shine brightly and constellations stand out against the dark background.

"The nightwatch events have become hugely popular and, besides the celestial fireworks, it is also a chance for people to experience nocturnal wild-life."

Both events start at 8pm. Booking for Chopwell is required on (01207) 542231 and for Hamsterley on (01388) 488312.

The event costs £5 for adults, £3 concessions and £10 for a family ticket (two adults, two children).