Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Mantids & Space Station

Every year at this time I have to watch for Praying Mantis when I'm walking at the park. In fact, that's the only place I see them any longer. They'll come out onto the walkway when the sun has warmed it and I suppose that is the real attraction. This first one was very pale in color, almost white as I approached. It looked up at me tentatively as I swung the large lens down towards it but it didn't budge.

The Praying Mantis's scientific name is just what you'd expect: Mantis religiosa. It's also commonly known as the European Mantid. Before 1899, you'd not have found this insect in the United States (it came over with nursery stock from Europe). The fellow below is of the more common coloration we see in these parts.

One of the reasons the bugs aren't very common, I understand, is that they are cannibalistic. You'd think natural selection would have none of that but I suppose there's another purpose: controlling their numbers.

As a child, I vividly remember capturing Praying Mantis's in glass jars and they were the greatest trophy of all (lightning bugs came in a close second). Watching a Praying Mantis up close is like coming across an alien: their head turning reminds me of the way a dog often responds to the spoken word. "Treat? Did I hear the word treat?"

Below are two cropped shots from a pass of the International Space Station over our area on Sunday (10/05). This first shot shows it approaching from the NW at about 9:42 p.m. This is a 15 second exposure. "Expedition 17" is aboard at the moment and making plans to depart; Expedition 18 crew members are set to launch Sunday.

The shot below is interesting because the ISS was scheduled to pass into the earth's shadow while it was well overhead my location. It finally faded from view at 9:44 p.m. at an elevation of 48 degrees (this shot is facing NNE). It would appear to be a meteor traveling to the left but instead it is fading as it moved right (east) in this frame.

It's amazing what we can see in the night sky if we take the time to plan ahead. I use the satellite predictions at: http://heavens-above.com because they are accurate to the second. I've wasted time with other web sites and I have yet to find an error in Heavens Above predictions. If you're interested in seeing the Space Station - or even the Hubble Telescope - have a look there.

Time spent in your back yard, if it's dark enough, will be time well spent.