Tonight! Meteors! Mars! Space station!
OK, so you'll have to be up in the middle of the night. Do it anyway. It's worth it. It's the annual Perseid meteor shower, and it's scheduled to peak for Marylanders between 2 a.m. and dawn Friday morning.
And there's a bonus in it for us this year. Two, actually. First is Mars, which will rise at about 11:30 p.m. tonight, and be visible high in the east by 2 a.m. Big, bright and red, it's approaching opposition in November and its best appearance in 2.2 years.
Also, the International Space Station will fly across the sky, from about 4:50 a.m. until 4:53 a.m. At its peak it will appear about 60 degrees above the northwest horizon Here's the track. It will pass from southwest to northeast, looking like a steady, bright, but fast-moving white star.
So roust yourselves and the kids (they don't have to get up for school anyway), find a dark spot with a wide view of the sky and settle down on a blanket or a lounge chair and just watch the sky for a few hours.
The weather forecast isn't too bad for this time of year. We've a fair shot at some clear sky.
There's no need for binoculars or a telescope. They'd just get in the way. All you need to do is scan the sky for the bright, quick streaks of light that mark the trails burned by bits of dust as they zip into the atmosphere at 132,000 mph. They're the debris left behind by the passage of the comet Swift-Tuttle. Each year at this time, as the Earth makes its way around the sun, it plows through the stuff and it puts on this really cool light show.
While it's not the best meteor shower of the year, it is the easiest to watch, thanks to mild temperatures and the number of people who don't have to be awake and functioning once the sun finally rises (at around 6:15 a.m.). You might even inspire your kids to pursue astronomy or planetary science as a career. As Willie Don would say, "Just do it!"