Internet Search Yields No Evidence of Time Travelers

by Nancy Atkinson on January 6, 2014

Comet ISON was used in a search for time travelers. NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope provides a close-up look of Comet ISON (C/2012 S1), as photographed on April 10. Credit: NASA, ESA, J.-Y. Li (Planetary Science Institute), and the Hubble Comet ISON Imaging Science Team.

Comet ISON was used in a search for time travelers. NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope provides a close-up look of Comet ISON (C/2012 S1), as photographed on April 10. Credit: NASA, ESA, J.-Y. Li (Planetary Science Institute), and the Hubble Comet ISON Imaging Science Team.

You can find anything on the internet, right? A new study reveals, however, that you can’t find evidence of time travelers on the internet. Credible time travelers, that is.

The study was conducted by astrophysicist Robert Nemiroff who is part of the Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) team, along with some of his students from Michigan Technological University.

They did three separate types of searches, and developed a search strategy based on what they call “prescient knowledge.” They looked for discussions on social media and various websites where there might be evidence of a mention of something or someone before people should have known about it. If they were able to find evidence of that, it could indicate that whoever wrote it had traveled from the future.

They selected search terms relating to two recent phenomena, Pope Francis and Comet ISON, and began looking for references to them before they were known to exist.

First, they looked for specific terms on Twitter, then secondly looked for “prescient” inquiries submitted to a search engine, and the third search involved a request for a direct Internet communication, either by email or tweet, pre-dating to the time of the inquiry.

The team used a variety of search engines, such as Google and Bing, and combed through Facebook and Twitter.

Their results? “No time travelers were discovered,” says the abstract of their paper.

“In our limited search we turned up nothing,” Nemiroff said in a press release. “I didn’t really think we would. But 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.”

So far, no lottery winners have confessed to using time travel to make their winnings.

In the case of Comet ISON, there were no mentions before it was discovered in September 2012. They discovered only one blog post referencing a Pope Francis before Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected head of the Catholic Church on March 16, but it seemed more accidental than prescient.

In the third part of their search, the researchers created a post in September 2013 asking readers to email or tweet one of two messages on or before August 2013: “#ICanChangeThePast2” or “#ICannotChangeThePast2.”

No replies have been given … yet.

And just in case you’re wondering credible time travelers do not include the two “chrononauts” who said they time traveled with a young Barack Obama.

Nemiroff and physics graduate student Teresa Wilson will present their findings today, Monday, Jan. 6, at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Washington, DC.

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also works with Astronomy Cast, and is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

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