An astrophysicist is taking on the unique task of trying to find any evidence of time travelers via social media. The experiment was a light-hearted endeavor using scientific methods that was developed over a game of cards on a summer night.

Robert Nemiroff, from the Michigan Technological University, and his students came up with the idea to search for time travelers via social media. According to Nemiroff, these people from the future may have left a trail on sites like Facebook or Twitter, such as a mention of an event that has yet to occur.

To test the idea of searching for time travelers, Nemiroff focused on two subjects, Comet ISON and Pope Francis. The goal was to find any reference to these popular topics ahead of public awareness that would indicate advanced, or prescient, knowledge. For Comet ISON that would mean any reference prior to the September 2012 announcement of the discovery of the “comet of the century.” For Pope Francis, that would be any reference to Jorge Mario Bergoglio as the new Pope prior to his election on March 13, 2013 going beyond just speculation or prediction.

Time Travel
Researchers searched through Twitter and Facebook to find evidence left behind by time travelers. Photo: Flickr

The researchers did not have much luck finding any evidence of advanced knowledge which would indicate a possible time traveler. Searching through Google, Bing, Facebook and Twitter, only one reference to a “Pope Francis” turned up before his election but that “seemed more accidental that prescient.” Searches for inquiries that would signal knowledge of the events ahead of schedule also returned zero results.

While the search for time travelers was unsuccessful, which was a conclusion reached by Nemiroff before he began the experiment, that’s not to say the research did not have some significance. “I’m still not aware of anyone undertaking a search like this. The Internet is essentially a vast database, and I thought that if time travelers were here, their existence would have already come out in some other way, maybe by posting winning lottery numbers before they were selected,” said Nemiroff in a statement.

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The research is also an interesting exploration of the concept of time travelers in culture. According to the paper’s introduction, “The origin of the idea of time travel is unknown. Mentions in the distant past include the Indian Mahabharata, which may date as far back as the 9th century BC, the Hebrew Talmud, written about 300 AD, and the Japanese Nihongi, which dates back to about 700 AD.” The concept of time travel, to the past and into the future, has been part of the scientific discussion in more modern times.  Popular theories such as traveling faster than the speed of light or traveling through a wormhole are just a few examples of hypothetical scenarios where time travel may be feasible.

As for why the researchers were unsuccessful, Nemiroff has a couple of explanations. Nemiroff said it could be possible that time travelers cannot leave evidence of their journey to the past, or for individuals to find such evidence. The time traveler may have also been really good at covering his tracks and the search itself, notes Nemiroff, was not complete and the team could have missed some evidence due to incorrect content tags or timeframe. The research will presented at the upcoming American Astronomical Society meeting on Jan. 6.