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Category Archives: where in the universe are we?

Had a fantastic day out at Smokejack Brickpit.  In the 1980’s a new species of dinosaur Baryonyx walkerii was discovered here.  The lower Wealden sediments here are quarried for brickmaking.  The pit is designated as an SSSI, from the designation document:

“The site consists of a pit in the lower Weald Clay Group, probably near the Hauterivian-Barremian boundary. Important for depositional environments and faunas, its dark to light grey and brown clays with siderite concretions have yielded insects, ostracods, molluscs, fish, articulated and disarticulated bones of reptiles, and numerous gastroliths.”

The depositional environment was lagoonal so many different facies are represented.   The fossil bones that I collected were from a thin, dark, carbonaceous seam near the top of the pit.



All the pieces of fossilized bone that I collected from Smokejack Brickpit. I’ve been able to join some pieces using superglue. Now awaiting identification from the experts at The Natural History Museum.

Of all the different bits of bone the piece below is likely to be diagnostic.


It’s been dry here for weeks and weeks, no April showers.  Today it’s 1st May and it’s been raining.  time to plant out my seedlings.



Natures ‘vanitas’. Beach under Stonebarrow Hill, Dorset.


Field in Somerset underlain by incredibly fossiliferous Pliesbachian/Toarcian Beacon Limestone. Many happy hours spent here looking for ammonites and brachiopods. (annoying shadow on right!)



Change of plan with this painting. I scrubbed off the most recent layers using turpentine. I’ve drawn a tighter grid and plan to paint in the style of the Mars Pizza Painting ie. in a much more layered and pixellated manner.


WordPress ‘More options’ menu has a box titled slug!   Well I hate slugs!  This slug is the  URL-friendly version of the post title.  Why’s it called a slug?

In London yesterday for a lecture on dinosaurs by Prof Paul Upchurch
New Perspectives on dinosaur diversity and extinction at the Geological Association.   Most of the new perspectives have been arrived at using statistics so the lecture was quite heavy going.  Bottom line is that environments seem to have been stressed towards the end of the Maastrichian and while some dinosaur groups were doing okay and others were in decline.  Deccan Traps vulcanism and the Mexico meteorite together seem to correlate well with the disappearance of most of the dinosaurs.  Of course they didn’t disappear altogether as their descendants are still with us – birds!

Paid a quick visit to The White Cube Gallery, Bermondsey to see Anselm Kiefer: Walhalla.  I’m amazed at how that area has become gentrified!  Entering the gallery is like entering another world.  Much of the gallery space has been lined with lead and feels claustrophobic,  like being in a lead coffin.  There’s lead everywhere:  on the walls, on the beds that line the entrance corridor and on Anselm Keifer’s ‘paintings’.  Lead is heavy, it has a lot of gravitas.  It’s also poisonous so you are handed instructions as to how to respond if you accidentally become contaminated!

It’s all very phenomenological but is it good art?

It’s certainly very memorable, I don’t think even my sieve brain will forget this overwhelming exhibition.   Worryingly I can park the claustrophobia and desolation portrayed.  All I could think of was what’s that intense blue colour that he uses on some of his paintings?  Why didn’t his canvas burn when he chucked molten lead on it? (answer – some of the larger pieces of lead were poured elsewhere and stuck on to the canvas).  Why didn’t he use real bicycles for his bicycle sculpture? And,  we’re safe from radiation in these lead lined rooms!

Freudian slip – White cube came out as sh*te cube when I was typing.

Jonathan Jones writing for the Guardian, Anselm Kiefer review – an apocalyptic epitaph for the liberal age.   I’m still mulling so that’s good.





Cliff end, near Pett Levels. This is where samples of the Lower Wadhurst, Bone Bed can be collected. From the Lower Cretaceous of The Weald, Valanginian in age, it is about 135 -140.3 million years old.


Carbonized woody material collected from The Bone Bed at Cliff End, Pett Level. c 140 MA


Carbonized woody material in a matrix of Thanet Sand collected from Beltinge. c.50MA


I’ve collected some carbonized ‘wood’ from The Bone Bed at Pett Levels.  Similar material is found in the Thanet’s at Beltinge.  Now I need to find an astronomical object whose light took 140 million years to arrive on the Earth.  But this is not easy or straightforward:


There are plenty of internet sites that can do what you need. Firstly though you need to be able to convert your 46.4 million years into quantities these websites use, because for various historical and technical reasons the astronomy websites don’t tend to use light years.

Astronomers tend to use parsecs rather than light years, and the conversion factor is about 0.3066. To convert a distance in light years to parsecs, multiply by this number, e.g.
46.4 million light years = (46.4 x 0.3066) million parsecs = 14.2 million parsecs

This is also referred to as 14.2 megaparsecs, or 14.2 Mpc (one megaparsec =
1 Mpc = 1 million parsecs).

The other way distances are referred to is as an apparent recession velocity.
The expansion of the Universe makes it look like distant galaxies are moving away from us. The conversion is known as the Hubble constant, which is about 73 km/s per Mpc.

So, to convert a Mpc distance to an apparent recession velocity, multiply by 73. Example:
46.4 million light years = (46.4 x 0.3066) million parsecs
= 14.2 million parsecs
= 14.2 Mpc
= (14.2 x 73) km/s
= 1037 km/s
Now, the final conversion factor (Hubble constant) isn’t known that accurately, so I would aim for anywhere between 994 and 1065 km/s.

There is an astronomical website to find galaxies: the NASA Extragalactic Database, or NED. It’s at

There’s an all-sky search there, and to save you the hassle I’ve done the search for you. Here’s a (very long) URL for the result:

Clicking on the numbers down the left give you links to galaxy images.
You first get to a page on detailed info – eg here’s the one for NGC7814:

Then you click on images and get a whole selection.

Here I think the one on the bottom is what you want.

I wouldn’t download the FITS images – this is a technical binary format that is hard to view unless you have the software and know how to use it.
I’d stick with the preview JPEG / GIF images.

I’ve begun a new painting.  Based on a photograph of the Andromeda Galaxy taken in Redhill, Surrey.  I have extensively manipulated this photograph in Photoshop.


New painting based on a digital photograph of the Andromeda Galaxy.

To assist with the early stages of the painting I’ve bought an LED projector.



Ammonites and winter wheat near Ilminster Somerset.

I find this video truly scary:  Journey through the Virgo supercluster.

“The eternal silence of these infinite spaces terrifies me” ― Blaise Pascal, Pensées

Alone in the universe = sublime horror!

Some nice Arctic sp. fossils from Thanet Sands, Herne Bay, Kent.


Arctica sp. from Thanet Sands, Herne Bay, Kent. Articulated shells and pyritised casts – a death assemblage?

Progress with the pizza.


Building the pizza up slowly layer by layer.

New painting ‘Mars Pizza Phase’ using a photograph taken in Surrey in 2014. I’ve drawn a fine grid onto a gessoed canvas and fixed the graphite grid with fixative and a layer of diluted gesso. The graphite became quite mobile when I was using the dilute gesso and this is something that I’d like to explore further.

Layers of Windsor and Newton transparent acrylic inks are being used for the under painting. Surprisingly even dry layers of ink become mobile when new layers of ink are applied with any force (eg. wiping with a cloth).


Mars pizza phase.


Image of Mars photographed from Surrey.

Back to the basics:  philosophical materialism definition – “Materialism is a form of philosophical monism which holds that matter is the fundamental substance in nature, and that all phenomena, including mental phenomena and consciousness, are the result of material interactions.”

But what about dark matter?  There was a symposium, called Dark Materialism, on this and other stuff at Kingston University in 2011.