View of Venus treat for early risers on Christmas Day

Perhaps it is just a Griffin family thing. I remember, in the early 1970s, when I was very young, my siblings and I always woke up at some ungodly hour on Christmas Day, wild with excitement determined to rapidly unwrap the stack of beautifully wrapped presents beside the Christmas tree as fast as possible. For some strange reason our parents never wanted to get up at 3.30am and always sent us back to bed. Fast-forward to the late 1990s, and I found my children shared this weird genetic drive to rise early on December 25.

This year, if an array of excitable children confronts you, instead of sending them back to bed, why not use the opportunity to share the magnificence of the cosmos? With Venus putting on an excellent display in the morning sky, Christmas Day offers a chance to inspire early-rising stargazers and clear the heads of parents who may have indulged on Christmas Eve.

This week’s chart is drawn for 4.45am, about an hour before sunrise. Venus is the brightest object in the pre-dawn sky and will dominate the view to the east. The second planet from the sun is nearly 170 million kilometres from Earth. If one of your Christmas presents is a telescope, you should easily be able to see the small disk of the planet, which is 75% illuminated.

Venus is moving through the constellation Libra, the scales. Although it is one of the 12 classical zodiacal constellations, Libra is relatively inconspicuous. Its brightest star, Zebenalgenubi, is a rather dim second-magnitude star.

Libra, said to represent the scales of justice, is the only inanimate object in the Zodiac. All of the other zodiacal constellations represent animals or people. For example, the neighbouring constellation Scorpius, one of the most recognisable in the sky, represents the Scorpion that killed Orion with its deadly sting.

The sight of Scorpius in the morning is a reminder of the continuing cycle of the heavens. While it is summer now, in just six months, the Scorpion will be high overhead in midwinter.