New to the Origins Mission? Get the basics here.
How were the achroniologists chosen?
When the Megatherium Society launched a call for participants, we received more than 1,000 applications. A committee of leading anthropologists, archaeologists, geologists, chemists, and ecologists narrowed the submissions down to 100, whom we asked to submit supplementary materials. As the group was narrowed down to a further 30, we began bringing applicants in for field tests and psychological evaluations. In addition to wanting the most qualified scientists, we also looked for qualities like wilderness survival skills, adaptability, and emotional intelligence. The entire process took nearly two years.
It’s a bit like how NASA selects astronauts—only our achroniologists won’t even have regular contact with Mission Control. It’s an extremely dangerous undertaking, and we wanted to make sure that our explorers wouldn’t be the type of people to take unnecessary risks or get embroiled in interpersonal drama.
What’s the point of sending two researchers back in time?
The goal is to understand how early humans adapted to dramatic environmental upheavals, and how those environmental changes impacted human evolution. Up until about 2 million years ago, the global climate was much warmer than it is today, and the polar regions were largely free of ice. The most recent glacial period began around 2 million years ago, with the epoch that we call the Pleistocene. Suddenly glaciers appeared in the northern hemisphere. From there, things only got crazier. Earth underwent at least 20 glacial cycles over the course of the Pleistocene. This means that at some points, the glaciers dipped far down into North America and Europe. In places like Africa, South America, and southern Asia, the climate varied between dry and wet. At different points, the Sahara Desert was actually green!
While these types of cycles have occurred throughout Earth’s history, the rapidity of those changes during the Pleistocene is unusual. That makes it all the more remarkable that Homo sapiens evolved out of that period. Our achroniologists will investigate how humans and other hominin species (like Homo naledi and Homo neanderthalensis) did or did not adapt to these fluctuations. By being there while it happens, our researchers will be able to make direct observations of those environmental changes and the behaviors that allowed our distant ancestors to survive when other species of hominin didn’t.
We hope to use that information not only to put together a more accurate picture of the human evolutionary story, but also in practical efforts to adapt to the ongoing challenges modern humans face—namely climate change and ecological destruction. In the past, changes in greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane came after deglaciation cycles had already begun. In our time, we’ve seen deglaciation and other effects of warming come as a result of increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Perhaps our ancestors will have something to teach us about surviving in an environment that’s changing as rapidly as ours currently is.
How does the Tipler Dome work?
The Tipler Dome is a quantum time machine. It uses entanglement combined with post-selection to create the conditions in which our machine and its contents—including the achroniologists—can travel as far back as 1 million years and to any location on the planet (our physicists have yet to break the 1 million year barrier, but are conducting ongoing studies). The machine doesn’t require a black hole, a wormhole, or any sort of nuclear fission, just a lot of very complex calculations and a renewable power source so our researchers can get back to the present time. Based on how the machine is built, they’ll be able to jump backward once, then make up to ten jumps forward until they reach the current time once more.
Won’t it cause a “butterfly effect” and alter the present?
No. Physicists have found that the linear nature of time means that regardless of what our achroniologists do, their actions are already part of our timeline. That’s not to say they’re going to be disruptive while they’re in the past; their mission is to observe without interfering.
Can I travel back in time?
We are no longer accepting applications for travelers at this point, but keep an eye on the site for future missions. As for recreational time travel, we wouldn’t recommend it. Traveling in the Tipler Dome is hard on the body and requires months of physical training followed by three days of fasting beforehand.
When and where are the achroniologists traveling to?
They’ll be starting at 1 million years in the past, near the Olduvai Gorge of Tanzania, close to the border with Kenya. This site was chosen because of its importance in the fossil record: we know that multiple hominins, like Homo erectus, lived and made tools in the Rift Valley region, so we’re hoping that our researchers will run into some of them. From there, they’ll be jumping around in space and time. Check out the full timeline here.
How will we know what they’ve found?
The Tipler Dome is equipped with an ancillary machine that allows the achroniologists to send objects forward in time. They’ll use it to send us organic and inorganic specimens, data they’ve collected in the field, and letters to friends and family. The results of that data will be published occasionally on our website, in science journals, and in the mediasphere.
What if something goes wrong?
While we’ve trained the achroniologists to respond to numerous possible dangers—wild animal attacks, poisonous insect bites, and violent encounters with other hominins—there’s no knowing what might happen. In case of a real emergency, the researchers can use the Tipler Dome to return immediately to the present. The dome itself is so heavy as to make it immovable by other forces, up to and including hurricane-force winds.
When will they return?
The team will spend 16 months traveling through the past, and will return precisely 16 months after they left. While they could return at the exact moment from when they departed, the calculations are much more complicated to do so, and involve a much higher risk of uchronitosis, or time travel sickness.
Where can I see updates of their progress?
Sign up for weekly progress reports from our two explorers here. You can also visit this website anytime to read the weekly Field Notes, and see updates on our Mission Control blog.