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Time travel experiment fails to find online evidence

Researchers with perhaps a bit too much time on their hands conducted an extensive internet and social media search for evidence of time travellers going back in history and then bragging about it online. But they came up empty.
The 1982 Delorean 'time machine' from the movie "Back to the Future" is displayed at the Dezer Collection Museum in North Miami, Fla. Researchers conducted an extensive internet and social media search for evidence of time travellers going back in history and then bragging about it online. But they came up empty. (Lynne Sladky/Associated Press)

Time travellers, if they really exist, seem to be keeping their adventures to themselves.

Researchers with perhaps a bit too much time on their hands conducted an extensive internet and social media search for evidence of time travellers going back in history and then bragging about it online.

And they came up empty. No real life Dr. Who or Marty McFly from the movie Back to the Future tweeting secrets a bit early.

Spurred by idle chat during Thursday poker games, an astrophysicist and his students at Michigan Technological University in Houghton, Michigan, searched for mentions of Pope Francis and Comet ISON before they popped into reality. Francis was elected pope last March and ISON was first detected in September 2012.

The idea: If someone mentions a Pope Francis in a 2011 tweet, Facebook post or blog item, then they must have come back from the future with special knowledge.

But no one posted anything prescient.

And last September, the researchers asked people to tweet ".Icanchangethepast2" — but do it before August, a month earlier. Again, no one did.

Rejected by 3 journals

The disappointing results, rejected by three physics journals, will be presented Tuesday at the American Astronomical Society conference in Washington.

If someone went back in time and said something to hint about the future, it would prove the concept of time travel, said astrophysicist Robert Nemiroff.

He said this was merely summer fun that cost nothing to do.

"This wasn't a major research push," Nemiroff said Monday at the astronomy meeting. "This was typing things into search engines. Billions of dollars are spent on time travel movies and books and stuff like that. This probably costs less than a dollar to check on it."

Nemiroff said this isn't his normal field and he didn't much believe in travelling backward in time before — and believes less in it now. "Unless I go back (in time) and publish lots of papers," he joked.

Other scientists didn't quite take it too seriously either.

Harvard University astronomer Avi Loeb said in an email, "as anyone who uses online dating knows, the internet is the last place to find the truth about the physical reality."

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