The Loh Down On Science

Physicists test time travel with social media!

Dave Askwith and Alex Normanton

Spoof plaque commemorating the residence of a fictitious character invented by the authors of the humor book Signs of Life.

Is time travel even possible?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Fans of Dr. Who and the Terminator films may wonder.  Turns out, scientists are curious, too.

Robert Nemiroff, an astrophysicist at Michigan Tech, studies things like gamma rays and gravity lenses.  Recently, he and some students were discussing time travel.  Hey, even serious scientists need to have a bit of fun!  They wondered:  Could time travelers be detected through social media?

To find out, they scoured Google, Bing, Facebook, and Twitter for “prescient knowledge”— references to unique events that couldn't be known in advance.  For example, mentions of Pope Francis before he was chosen.  Or Comet ISON before it was discovered.  In September, they even posted a message asking time travelers to send a tweet—in August.

In the end, they only got one hit, and that was just a lucky guess about the next pope.  So perhaps time travelers are cagey and can’t be convinced to reveal themselves. 

At least on the Internet.

Next lead?  Fortune tellers' shops.  If only they didn't see us coming!

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The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, in partnership with the University of California, Irvine, and 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.


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