We are made of carbon, it is the basic building block in virtually every cell in our body. Most of the carbon in the world is carbon-12 which contains six neutrons and six protons. However about 15 miles above our heads radioactive carbon-14 is formed as neutrons from cosmic rays interact with the atmosphere.

Protons and atomic nuclei created by events such as exploding stars speed across space and collide violently with the Earth’s atmosphere creating a chain reaction of cascading particles. Some of these tiny travellers may come from distant galaxies or be created by phenomena that we are yet to discover. Our body is continuously permeated at a subatomic scale by these particles fired into our world – an almost tangible contact with outer space.

Carbon-14 has six protons and eight neutrons and has a half-life of 5,730 years. This means that after 5,730 years dead matter which absorbed Carbon-14 when alive will contain half the amount it had when it died and after another 5,730 years that amount will have halved again. Radioactive decay is random but in a sample there are enough atoms to work out an average time it will take for the nucleus to lose the extra neutrons.

This radioactive carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere is absorbed by plants which are eaten by animals and humans.

Cosmic ray activity gives us carbon dating techniques.

I am working on a video, Cosmic Chiasmus, meaning crossing, which I was hoping would be part of Queens Hall Digital programme but now I am not sure they are going ahead with the commission.

Plant time lapse filming is fascinating to see how plants are so animated just at a different time scale to us. Also I have recently finished reading Richard Powers Overstory, a very powerful sobering read, which celebrates the slow yet socially active time of trees.

At Coniston. We are left to imagine the past majesty of this ancient giant which was lopped so it didn’t drop branches on the cars in the carpark.

Carbon dating is performed by measuring Carbon-14 in organic matter. Radiocarbon decays slowly while an organism is alive but is continually replenished as long as the organism takes in air or food.

When an organism dies no more Carbon-14 is absorbed and that which is present starts to decay at a constant rate.

By measuring the radioactivity of dead organic matter, the current carbon-14 content can be determined and the time of death established.

The oldest matter that can reliably be carbon dated is about 50,000 years old. Currently techniques are being refined as they have often relied on the assumption that Carbon-14 levels in the atmosphere are constant but they are not.

The burning of fossil fuels which have lost all their radiocarbon dilutes the amount of Carbon-14 with carbon dioxide and nuclear explosions add huge amounts of ‘bomb carbon’ to the atmosphere. During planetary magnetic field reversals more solar radiation cosmic rays enter the atmosphere producing more Carbon-14. Also the oceans suck up carbon circulating it for centuries.

There are a number of uncertainties for dating shell.

On the surface of the earth two to three Muons pass through your hand every second, underground this is reduced to about once a month.

I collected a selection of images from the 1930’s including some from family, including my Mum aged 3, which I have tinted blue and had printed on sublimation dye paper for transfer to the tiles making up the raster pattern in the work in progress 90 Light Years Home. FM radio and television signals can pierce the ionosphere and travel through space at the speed of light. The first signals will have travelled about 90 lightyears now to arrive at a solar system very similar to our own. Fragments travelling through space for light years with the potential for alien life to decipher.

While searching for images to use as fragments of our world as it appeared about 90 years ago in old National Geographic magazines I came across some articles about balloon voyages in the 1930’s to the stratosphere to record cosmic ray activity.

Intrepid explorers. These early explorations were innovative but also dangerous. In July 1934 a flight developed tears in the balloon fabric at about 57,000 feet and began to break apart, as it did so the hydrogen in the balloon exploded and the crew had to parachute to safety.

Physicist Victor Hess had already made a series of daring ascents in a balloon to take measurements of radiation in the atmosphere. In 1912 he made an ascent to 17,000 feet during a near-total eclipse of the Sun to determine if the source of the radiation was coming from the Sun and made the discovery that it had to be coming from further out in space.

The stratosphere balloon Explorer II was designed to carry heavy instruments for cosmic ray measurements to a height of 13 miles and more above sea level.

Scientists designed a system of cosmic ray telescopes to record the numbers of cosmic rays coming in from several angles above the horizon. Most of the cosmic rays counted are secondary particles shot out from the atoms of the air by the primary rays entering and colliding from space. During this flight the height at which most secondary cosmic rays are produced was determined and the first records of bursts of energy from atom disruption by cosmic rays was made.

Also, the first track ever made directly in the emulsion of a photographic plate by an alpha-particle cosmic ray with enormous energy of 100,000,000 electron volts was achieved. Two boxes of photographic plates coated with special emulsion were wrapped in light tight paper and attached to the balloon gondola. When the plates were developed there were no visible images but when put under a microscope tracks could be seen where the particles had ploughed through the emulsion.

Early google earth. They also took the highest altitude photographs of the Earth ever made.

To record data they had a series of cameras set to take automatic photographs of the dials on the different apparatus.

Analysing air captured from the stratosphere.

On Earth we are protected from most radioactive particles by the atmosphere and the magnetic field.

It has been clearly demonstrated that birds are able to sense the direction of the Earth’s magnetic field and that they can use this information as part of a compass sense. It may be possible humans retain some residual magnetoreceptor in our eyes that once allowed us to navigate using the Earth’s magnetic field. Current research suggests that some people do indeed perceive magnetic fields, albeit unconsciously.

Work in progress on navigation by magnetic receptors. Working on a soft ground etching of my iris with aquatint. Not sure yet if I will use the plate or the print in the final work which will have iron filings activated across the surface.

First components have arrived from America for my attempt to build my own cosmic ray detector to create an interactive artwork. The plastic block converts the energy of the charged particle passing through to a photon which can be read by a silicon photo-multiplier and the information fed to an Arduino processor. Daunting and exciting.

Visit to Sutton Hoo where the ever increasing accuracy of radio carbon dating has provided astonishing clues to the past history of this intriguing site. Archaeologists can determine the age of objects in decades as opposed to centuries.

Sutton Hoo is the site of two early medieval cemeteries dating from the 6th to 7th centuries near Woodbridge, in Suffolk, England. In 1939 landowner Mrs Edith Pretty asked local archaeologist Basil Brown to investigate the largest of several Anglo-Saxon burial mounds on her property. Inside, he made one of the most spectacular archaeological discoveries of all time.

Past, present and future finds. Ancient trees. Burials of Kings. Amazing sword of beaten twisted wrought iron and steel. Basil Brown’s star charts.

The agency and aura of objects was investigated with the intent to generate new relations between objects and their associations with the world around them in the beautiful group show Can We Ever Know The Meaning Of These Objects curated by Sarah Sparkes and Kevin Quigley at Gallery 46.

Eileen Agar Angel of Anarchy at Whitechapel Gallery exposing the subconscious entwined with the material of nature. Enjoyed the decomposition of space into lines like foliations and contour lines. Which angel would you choose? Anarchy or Mercy?

I joined a zoom presentation from Sophie Williamson on her current project undead matter which dips into the deep time entanglement of geological ancestry. Leaving a mark in the past as a way of communicating with the future and creating a lineage for ourselves. Eras mingle with each other as ancient footprints resurface, ice melts, secreted narratives emerge. The permafrost holds vast amounts of carbon. Whole forests.

Zircon crystal contains radioactive uranium with a half-life of 4.5 billion years, which makes it useful for dating extremely old materials much much older than those containing Carbon-14. These crystals may hold clues to the origin of life. The carbon necessary for life may have arrived here in space dust from outer space via asteroids or comets.

WHAT ON EARTH group show from artists including Victoria Ahrens, Melanie King and Diego Valente using photographic processes with an emphasis on the material environment, tactility and sustainability.

Michael Armitage – Paradise Edict at the Royal Academy. Digital images do not do justice to the glow and vibrancy of these paintings. Can feel the heat pulsating with unsettling shape-shifting undercurrents.

180 The Strand with Ryoji Ikeda’s digital showcase was an intense assault on the senses using light and sound as medium to create immersive experiences. Brightness is the number of photons per second hitting your eye. Pushing the limits of what our senses can tolerate.

Took a trip to the Lake District to visit Brantwood, John Ruskin’s beautiful home to see Carol Wyss The Mind Has Mountains and Crown of Creation installations. Having seen the work that went into the printing of the large etchings at Thames-side Print Studio it was wonderful to be able to see the work finally installed and step inside the mysterious depths of the human skull; a space echoed by the surrounding mountains. The light installation is suspended in the dark chill of the Ice House vault, viewed from the top of rugged steps carved into the rock. Here the fragility of the human skeleton fades and glows accompanied by an evocative soundscape made by Natasha Lohan capturing the echoing chamber and the water that courses through everything.