Searching for prescient tweets…

Sometimes it happens. You browse the list of papers in astro-ph, as usual. Many papers are “obviously” rather boring (since they are dealing with topics you’re not interested…), but others worth a close inspection (maybe). Sometimes it happens, sometimes you find a paper that you “decide” you perhaps one day may want to read (leaving apart the fact that it will be actually read or not, in the future… probably not). Other times you stumble upon a paper that it’s really odd. Admittedly, it’s dealing with something outside of your research field, nevertheless you’re struck, you cannot avoid to be curios.

Surely one of the  “oddest” paper I managed to find on astro-ph is the recent “Searching the Internet for evidence of time travelers” by Robert Nemiroff and Teresa Wilson, two persons working int the Department of Physics of the Michigan Technological University.

In this ambitious work, they try to find evidence of people who have traveled (or will travel, depending on your point of observation) in time. And they use Internet for their investigation. Briefly, the point is to try to reveal persons who have traveled backyard in time. So, how can we discover them? See what they say:

Where a time traveler from the future to aces the Internet of the past few years, they might have left once-prescient content that persists today (…) Such content might have been catalogued by search engines such as Google ( or Bing (, or remain in posts left on Facebook (, Google Plus (, or Twitter (

So the point is, to search for “prescient” content on Internet. Simply as that. In order to make this process as efficient as possible, the authors focused on a couple of keywords (or properly speaking, hashtags). One is “Comet ISON” and the other is “Pope Francis”. In both cases, the labels came into the public lexicon during the selected “search windows” (they span from 2006 January to 2013 September).

Comet ISON is a comet discovered on 2012 September 21 by International Scentific Optical Network. On 2013 March 16, Bergoglio, the newly elected pope of the Chatolich Church, chose the name  Francis. For both events, the authors speculate about the fact that there is little or no reason, for anyone, to use such terms on Internet before the events happened. Except – obviously – in case of prescient informations.

The paper is quite intriguing and – odd it may seems – it develop the investigation (a bit more complex and comprehensive in respect of my description, to be honest) in a credibile way  – if one can use this term, here. Moreover, it features a detailed analysis of the reliability of finding contents on the most popular search engine and social network, which is valuable di per sé. 

Anyway, no time traveler were detected. This by no means imply that there are no time travelers, as the authors point out. Maybe time travelers do not want to be discovered. Or, “it may be physically impossible for us to find such information as that would violate some yet-unknown law of physics”.

While it may be slightly disappointing, we can close with a smile, recalling the experiment made by Stephen Howking a couple of years ago: the Time Traveller Party …. I would not want to reveal how many persons come… but maybe you can imagine 🙂


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