Timeline of the far future

Impending asteroids, interchangable North Stars and rings around Mars, what do future astronomical events have in store for the universe (and for planet Earth)?

  Image courtesy of NASA

Image courtesy of NASA

The north star swap

When undertaking peregrinations into the wild, we often seek guidance from the celestial arbiter Polaris, commonly known as the North Star. However, due to the effects of ‘precession’ (like when you nudge a spinning top) the Earth’s ‘spin axis’ changes and with it, our North Star. In 3000 B.C.Alpha Draconis was the North Star and 13,000 years from now it will be Vega.  

Impending asteroid

For centuries, soothsayers have predicted our cosmic extinction. But your 26 times great-grandchildren (in about 800 years) may have genuine cause for concern. In 2880, there’ll be a 1-in-300 chance of Asteroid (29075) 1950 DA colliding with Earth, the only asteroid considered to have a PalermoTechnical Impact Hazard Scale above the background level. 

The longest eclipse

On 16 July 2186, Earth will be plunged into darkness for seven minutes and 29 seconds.This will be the longest eclipse in a span of over 12,000 years (4000 BCE to 8000 CE). Astronomers speculate this might be, or is at least close to, the theoretical maximum duration of a solar eclipse based on current astronomic conditions. 

Harvest moon

The Florida based Moon Express has already raised $45 million to launch three expeditions to the Moon, with the final mission ending in an exploratory mining excursion, aptly named Harvest Moon. With the maiden flight of their Lunar Scout shuttle set for this year, we might all have our own lunar artefact as early as 2020. 

Mars gets rings (or explodes)

The red planet has two satellites: Phobos and Deimos. Phobos has a shorter lunar orbit than any other in our solar system. This close proximity to the surface, together with tidal interactions, means that in eight million years, one of two things will happen. Either it will break apart and form rings or it will crash into the surface like a giant nuclear bomb. 

Words: Matt Iredale

This features in issue 7 of Ernest Journal, on sale now.

Issue 7
Add To Cart

Wetland words

What is a wetland? According to new book Swamp by Anthony Wilson (Reaktion Books), wetlands are “in-between areas, mixtures of water and earth, land and liquid.” Let’s explore these murky hinterlands...

  Image by Conor Beary

Image by Conor Beary


Renowned as places of abject mystery, the foreboding boat snares we call ‘swamps’ are defined by their ability to support woody plants, such as mangroves and cypress trees, and are permanently saturated by water.


The smaller and more cumbersome relative of the swamp, ‘marsh’, although very similar, is built up of non-woody plants and nutrient-rich soil that allows all manner of reeds and sedges to flourish.


Taking many centuries to form, these small patches of spongy wetland are characterised by the appearance of partially decayed plant matter called peat. They’re also home to the illustrious British pastime, bog snorkelling.


Traditionally known as ground that can’t support a man’s weight, the term ‘quagmire’, or ‘mire’, encompasses both bogs and fens. Although similar, ‘fens’ are more nutrient-rich, less
acidic and support a higher diversity of life.


Derived from the amalgamation of the Native American word for ‘small stream’, bayuk, and 19th-century French colonialism, a ‘bayou’ is a slow-moving swamp-like section of a river or lake that is filled with fresh or salt water.

Words by Matt Iredale

This article features in issue 7 of Ernest Journal, on sale now.

Issue 7
Add To Cart

Remapping the frozen continent

In issue 7 of Ernest Journal, writer and humanitarian Carol Devine shared the story of her mission to compile a list of female place names in Antarctica – some old, some new, some lost to a rapidly changing climate – and chart them on a new map of the frozen continent. To accompany her words, we commissioned map-maker and illustrator Aidan Meighan to create Carol's vision. It's fair to say we were stunned by the result...

 'Mapping Antarctic Women', illustrated by Aidan Meighan, © Carol Devine. 

'Mapping Antarctic Women', illustrated by Aidan Meighan, © Carol Devine. 

Aidan, when we first approached you to illustrate Carol Devine's map of Antarctic women, what was your initial reaction? 

I eagerly await all of my Ernest briefs and this one from Carol was particularly exciting! I loved having the opportunity to involve myself in all her incredible research. Maps are often snapshots of history; changing landscapes, politics and territories – this map not only shows history but amends it. It was a joy to map the success of these inspirational women explorers, scientists and innovators. 

What are your feelings towards this remote, frozen continent at the bottom of the world? 

It sounds like something out of science fiction – a continent made of 99% ice, with temperatures reaching −89.2 °C! I've always been a keen environmentalist and I think it's of paramount importance that we look after our frozen friend down south. Global warming and the world's biggest lump of ice... what could possibly go wrong? I've always been interested in the people brave enough to explore this hostile part of the world. But it wasn't until creating this map that I realised so many of them were women. We've been seeing Antarctica through male-tinted glasses for many years – so many maps of the past have neglected to mention the inspirational women explorers, scientists and innovators who journeyed there.

Tell us about your design process when it comes to illustrating a map.

With all maps I start by thinking of the most effective way to display the key content. From there I think about its message and how it should look and feel. Then I begin to harmonise the content with the design – it begins to get really satisfying, polishing it up until it becomes something special. In this case I thought it was important for Carol's research to do the talking. I wanted to draw influence from classic maps of the continent, while shifting the perspective to highlight those underrepresented in the past. 

You also illustrated a few other maps and images for issue 7 – tell us a bit about them. 

I LOVED illustrating for issue 7 – I could really get my teeth into it. One of my favourites was the little map of Doggerland for the East Anglia special - it's such a fascinating place and I was pleased with its aesthetic. It's really nice to get into multiple illustrations on a theme, such as East Anglia, partly because you can get into a groove from a design perspective, but also I love learning about new places. My head is full of hundreds of bizarre facts and stories, including the Orford Merman!

What's your favourite map (not one of yours!) and why?

Hmm, that is tough! There are so many to choose from and in so many styles.  Maps I love range from Ptolemy's world map, to modern maps such as Grayson Perry's A Map of Days and the extremely practical and classic design of the OS maps. Right this very minute though I'd probably go for Walter Goodacre's Map of the Moon (below), a hand drawn map of the moon's surface, drawn in 25 segments, with the total diameter measuring 77" (1910).

Walter Goodacre Moon Map 1910.png

Where would you most like to travel?

Iceland, Japan or New Zealand. The landscapes in Iceland look otherworldly – I'd love to go there and do some drawings of the mountains, lava fields and geysers.

You're currently redesigning your website - how's that going? Any other exciting developments/projects you'd like to tell us about?

Actually we are a tad behind schedule trying to get it just right, but it will launch in May sometime, which is very exciting. As well as editorial maps for the likes of Ernest, I also draw customised maps of people's homes and favourite places. The new website seeks to marry the two a little bit and basically become a map extravaganza. The page I'm most excited about introducing is 'Maps by Aidan', which will showcase the eclectic range of maps I've drawn for Ernest and other publications, such as the map of Brutalist buildings in London, bothies in Scotland and the new maps in issue 7.

Tell us a bit about your work space. What do you like to have around you? Do you listen to music or a particular station?

I've just moved house from Bristol (an incredible place to have spent the last 12 years and started my illustration career) to the green and tranquil Quantock hills in Somerset. Right now from my studio window I see a shed, a few ancient oak trees and about 20 cows that come up to our garden fence to say hello every morning. I like to be surrounded by greenery. In Bristol, without a garden, the number of houseplants in our collection got a bit out of control. My desk is usually pretty tidy, but here's an inventory of what's on it today!

A History of the World in Twelve Maps by Jerry Brotton
A hakisak
Two yoyos (a pro yo and an X brain)
A tin of earl grey tea
Three pots of Quink ink and 1 Windsor and Newton (3 black, 1 blue)
A spirit level
A hammer
A tile with a crude painting of a man riding a horse
Some big old headphones
Two terrariums and two potted succulents
Two tea-dregged 'Habitat Connor' orange mugs
...and of course my computer

I flit between podcasts (RadioLab, Ear Hustle, etc) and get my music fix on BBC 6 Music.

  Photo by Poppy French, Studio Grabdown

Photo by Poppy French, Studio Grabdown

You can see more of Aidan's work, in issue 7 of Ernest Journal, on sale now. 'Mapping Antarctic Women' is an ongoing project and Carol is keen to add to her map. Join the conversation on Twitter and Instagram using the hashtags #ernestjournal and #MappingAntarcticWomen

Follow Aidan on Instagram @whereabouts_maps, on Twitter @whereaboutsmaps and at whereaboutsmaps.com



Making an Exhibition of Themselves

A stiletto umbrella for defensive purposes, a pen knife with 80 blades and an envelope folding machine – just three of the items unveiled at the Great Exhibition of 1851, the greatest show and tell session the world had ever seen...

Screen Shot 2018-01-08 at 11.07.29 AM.png

Lewis Carroll said the Great Exhibition was “like a sort of fairyland”, while essayist Walter Bagehot wrote that it was “a great fair under a cucumber frame”. The Crystal Palace was built especially for the show – over 30 metres high and the size of 15 football pitches, with over 10 miles of aisles. 

The exhibition was the brainchild of Prince Albert and was opened by Queen Victoria on 1 May 1851. During the six months its doors were unlatched, visitors consumed 28,046 sausage rolls, 1,000 gallons of pickles and 37 tons of salt. Six million people paid entry to walk among its exhibits from all over the world, including a piano that could be played by four people at once, papier mâché furniture, and a dressing table that doubled as a fire escape. 

Visitor Mary Smith was recorded marvelling over an invention that may have inspired Wallace and Gromit: a bedstead fitted with an alarm that on the set hour would fold itself up, hurling the sleeper out of slumber. Another display was a glass case holding 200,000 live bees, which brings to mind Damien Hirst’s formaldehyde installations. But what other Great Exhibits left their mark? 

Screen Shot 2018-02-08 at 12.24.47 PM.png

The Tempest Prognosticator
By Dr George Merryweather, museum curator
Whitby, England

This elaborate apparatus was developed by Dr George Merryweather after he observed that leeches became agitated when there was a storm approaching. To harness this phenomenon, Merryweather placed 12 glass bottles around the base of a circular stand, at the top of which was a bell surrounded by 12 hammers. He placed a leech in each bottle, and as the leeches became agitated by an approaching storm, they would crawl up the bottle, dislodging a piece of whalebone, which would make the bell ring. Merryweather explained the reason for the bottles’ positioning was so the leeches could see their fellow inmates and “not endure the affliction of solitary confinement”.

This invention may have had an unpredictable influence, not just on natural barometers that followed, but also on subsequent studies into human barometers that looked at how approaching weather formations affect mental health.

You can see a replica of the Tempest Prognosticator on display at Whitby Museum. 

Screen Shot 2018-02-08 at 12.25.42 PM.png

The Yacht Piano
By William Jenkins, inventor and manufacturer
London, England

What does every gentleman’s yacht need but a piano? And with William Jenkins’ clever design displayed at the Great Exhibition, a collapsible keyboard meant the notoriously cumbersome instrument could, when folded, measure just 131⁄2 inches from front to back. Made from walnut – and carved and ornamented in the Elizabethan style – Jenkins exhibited it as an “Expanding and Collapsing Pianoforte for gentlemen’s yachts, the saloons of steam-vessels, ladies’ cabins, etc.”

Various companies went on to make yacht pianos, including Chappell & Co and Crammer & Co, as well as London department stores like John Barker and Whiteleys. Some models were elaborately decorated for the most wealthy yacht owners.

Jenkins’ Yacht Piano may even have influenced later designs. In 1866, Charles Hess filed a patent for a ‘convertible bedroom piano’, which, as well as being a fully functioning instrument, came complete with a hidden couch, a closet for bedclothes, a wash basin and a music stool containing a writing desk and looking glass. 

Screen Shot 2018-02-08 at 12.25.23 PM.png

The Comical Creatures
By Hermann Ploucquet
Stuttgart, Germany

Besides the Koh-i-Noor diamond from India, one other exhibit that was said to really capture the attention of the crowds was that of taxidermist Hermann Ploucquet. Even Queen Victoria herself described Ploucquet’s display as “really marvellous”.

Ploucquet’s tableaux featured a large number of stuffed animals in human scenarios. Among the scenes were duelling dormice, ice-skating hedgehogs, a frog carrying an umbrella, and six kittens serenading a piglet underneath her window.

A reviewer from the Morning Chronicle wrote,“The animals borrow exaggerated expression without losing their brute looks and the rationale of the irresistible risibility which they excite is the wondrous union of brute face with human expression.”

Plouquet’s exhibit was so popular, his book The Comical Creatures of Wurtenburg was rushed out in the same year. His work is thought to have had a great deal of influence on subsequent artists, such as taxidermist Walter Potter, as well as on a fair few greetings cards since. 

Words: Lela Tredwell, Illustrations: Johnathan Montelongo

Read the full feature in issue 6 of Ernest Journal, on sale now.

Print issue 6
Add To Cart

The Atomic Gardener

Welcome to the astonishing world of Muriel Howorth, Britain's very own botanical particle physicist. 

!MurielWithPeanuts copy.jpg

Far away from the cares of Britain’s Atomic Weapons Establishment, a pantomime cow was eating a radioactive lunch. A Geiger counter flashed and clicked as the cow stood up on her hind legs, rubbed her stomach and smiled. Moments later, a balletic Atom Man pirouetted, glided across the stage then squatted before Knowledge, a figure draped in parachute silk. “The cow should soon be a perfectly healthy animal”, Knowledge said.

It’s not clear if the ballet Isotopia: an Exposition in Atomic Structure was ever seen again after its debut in the Waldorf Hotel, in the heart of London’s theatre district. Writing in October 1950, a Time magazine journalist recalled 13 members of the Ladies Atomic Energy Club gyrating across the stage in long evening gowns, as they danced and mimed the peaceful uses of the atom to a rapt crowd of 250 other women. Isotopia was one of many creations of the club’s visionary founder Muriel Howorth: script writer, choreographer, wardrobe advisor, poet, science fiction novelist, former employee of  The Ministry of Information and atomic evangelist. “To lead women out of the kitchen and into the Atomic Age” was Howorth’s aim. “Not to know all about atomic energy and the wonderful things it can do is like living in the Dark Ages”.

Howorth wanted to take Isotopia to the Royal Albert Hall. She’d always been a fearless schemer, someone who knew how to marshall others’ efforts. Despite having no formal science training, she taught herself the rudiments of nuclear physics at her home in the English seaside town of Eastbourne. By 1948, she’d set up her Ladies Atomic Energy Club and was already writing to the great physicists of the time, asking them to endorse her efforts. Einstein graciously sent some encouraging words.

As early as 1949, when she presented a model of a lithium atom to a surprised mayor of Eastbourne, Howorth was staging atomic stunts in public. There was a Sunday lunch that she ate in 1959, even though the potatoes and onions were three years old. They’d been stored in the labs of Harwell, Oxfordshire, with a few grains of radioactive sodium – enough to kill any germs (and all the taste).

In 1960, Howorth embarked on her most ambitious venture. Her intentions became public when she posed for the local papers, tickling an extraordinary plant that was growing on her window sill. “Yesterday I held in my hand the most sensational plant in Britain,” wrote Beverly Nichols, gardening correspondent for The Sunday Dispatch. “To me it had all the romance of something from outer space. It is the first ‘atomic’ peanut.”

This plant had itself been grown from a remarkable peanut – a gift from Oak Ridge Tennessee (home of the Manhattan Project). Like Howorth’s onions and potatoes, this peanut had been irradiated. In this instance, all that atom blasting had done something extraordinary: it had disrupted the DNA of the peanut to create a mutant – a peanut that would grow into a giant plant, one with nuts as big as almonds. The plant itself wasn’t radioactive – its crop tasted good and was perfectly safe to eat, just like any other peanut.

In praise of the mutant vegetables 

With food rationing in Britain still a recent memory, it’s no wonder Howorth was drawn to the implications: take a large batch of seeds of wheat, barley, tomatoes or another foodcrop – irradiate them and, if you’re lucky, you will make some mutants. Some of those mutants might grow in odd colours, some might grow tall or twisted, others will wither and die. But if you’re lucky, you may find that one in a billion mutation: a plant that grows large enough to end world hunger. With her leadership, Howorth was sure the gardeners of Britain could work together to find this golden mutant.

Howorth instructed her husband Major Howard to set himself up as the sole European distributor of atom-blasted seeds from Van Hage Company, Holland. She also persuaded Harold Wootton to exhibit her specimens in his Wonder Gardens, a pleasure garden in Wannock, a few miles outside Eastbourne. Thus her experimental, atom-blasted allotment was visited by thousands of families on Sunday afternoons on their way to the model village and tearooms. 

Howorth opened the doors of her Atomic Gardening Society and asked for willing amateur gardeners to join her. This was citizen science on a grand scale, all handled through the Post Office. All you had to do was request some atom-blasted seeds from The Major and buy Howorth’s book, Atomic Gardening for the Layman, to jump into the atomic age. 

Seeds were posted to volunteers, along with instructions on how to nurture them, log their growth and report back on any interesting mutants. Finding the golden mutant was a game of chance. Every volunteer and every new planting improved the odds of finding the plant that could, in Howorth’s eyes, save humankind. The odds, however, were stacked against her. Howorth managed to recruit around 300 gardeners – but a thousand times that number would be needed to have any likelihood of creating even a handful of mutations, let alone the giant plant she longed for. To encourage the gardeners’ competitive spirit, Howorth announced the most promising mutant each year would be awarded the “Muriel Howorth Peanut Prize”. We don’t know if anyone ever took home the trophy. Despite her optimism, by the mid-1960s, the volunteers had little to show for their efforts. The Atomic Gardening Society quietly fizzled out. 

By this time, many plant scientists had abandoned atom-blasting, seeing it as a haphazard way to find useful mutants. They turned their attention to chemical methods of splicing the gene - techniques behind the GM crops of today. As atomic gardening historian Paige Johnson said to amusingplanet.com. “If you think of genetic modification today as slicing the genome with a scalpel, in the 1960s they were hitting it with a hammer”. Howorth never reconciled herself to this, clinging to the romance of the atom until her death in 1971.

As an atomic pioneer, Howorth was a visionary. Although she never found her giant mutant, in many other ways, her work was a triumph. Decades before the era of crowd sourcing, she demonstrated that anyone could set up and run their own scientific experiments, following their own interests rather than the agenda of established laboratories. Long before anyone had ever spoken about open source culture, she was already sharing scientific knowhow for the price of a few first class stamps.

Howorth would be delighted to know that atomic gardening is making a comeback. In tightly controlled experiments, crop scientists are growing plants in circular fields that are continually bathed in radiation. This comes from highly radioactive cobalt-60 – a source so deadly, it has to be dropped into a lead-lined sarcophagus before anyone can enter the field. Rapid genome testing lets them sift through thousands of results. In Atomic Gardening for the Layman, Howorth hinted at plans for her own cobalt-60 garden, something she never had the funds to bring to fruition. 

Howorth didn’t have the chance to study atomic science formally, yet she came up with experiments that were rationally designed and breathtaking in their ambition. She achieved so much on that windowsill in Eastbourne, in Slaymaker’s Wondergarden and in the pots of atomic gardening pioneers around the UK. Just think how much more she could have done if she’d been given the keys to the lab. 

Words: Sarah Angliss

This story is featured in our book The Odditorium: The tricksters, eccentrics, deviants and inventors whose obsessions changed the world (Hodder & Stoughton, Oct 2016). Pick up a copy today.