Do-It-Yourself Time Capsules!

Since the beginning of written human history, people have created tablets, monuments and other permanent records that send messages into the future. Often when a new building is dedicated, a stash of documents is hidden inside a foundation stone. This idea of communicating with future descendants eventually turned into specific messages placed into specially-designed to be open at some specific future date. The oldest time capsule opened recently was placed into a building corner stone in 1795 by Paul Revere in Boston. It was opened in 2015 and the coins and newspapers it contained were donated to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. In 1940 a time capsule was buried at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta. It is not to be opened until the year 8113 AD. It contains classic works of film and literature, as well as cultural odds and ends such as a typewriter.

You, too, can create your own time capsule to commemorate the August 21, 2017 total solar eclipse from wherever you happen to be. When might you want it opened? Perhaps on April 8, 2024 when the next total solar eclipse crosses the continental United States! How old will you be then? What do you think you would like your younger self to have sent to you across 7 years of time?

As you prepare the contents for your time capsule, think about how your letters and photos will be read by future technology. Printed materials are best, but electronic files require some special planning!

What would you include?

  • How about writing a letter to yourself describing what your dreams might be for the year 2024, or beyond?
  • How about a few digital photos or video clips on a thumb drive. Do you think they will have readers for thumb drives in 2024 or later?
  • Try your hand at drawing what your city or town might look like when the time capsule is opened.
  • Personal comments about who you are and what you think your future self might wonder about would be very exciting to receive many years after you have forgotten what your younger self was thinking about.
  • What current events are the most exciting to you, or the most troubling, and why.
  • Of course a current newspaper sealed in a plastic bag to avoid moisture and rotting would be exciting to receive many years later.
  • Try not to send food unless you really want to conduct a potentially smelly experiment!

What would you include?

The basic idea is that you want to put your time capsule in some place where you will not be tempted to keep opening it up to take a peek or adding new things to it. You want it to be a glimpse of life at the time it was sealed up and not opened again until the To Be Opened date arrives.

  • Put it in your parents safe deposit box at the bank
  • Bury it in your back yard with a stone marker.
  • If you think you may be moving, bury it in a special spot out in Nature by a favorite mountain and make sure you note its GPS coordinates so you can find it again.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration