So far science has only been able to prove that the concept of time travel works when you jump forward in time. We've even pushed a muon or two a tiny bit into the future. As for throttling a DeLorean up to 88 miles per hour and visiting the past, we've still got our time machines in park. But that doesn't mean humanity will always be stuck on a slow, one-way train to tomorrow.
A similar thought ran through the mind of Astrophysicist Robert Nemiroff during a poker game last summer. He was so amused by the idea of time travelers being in our midst that he actually roped a few of his students into looking for evidence of their presence. Like any proper modern sleuthing effort, their search began online.
"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," says Nemiroff.
Rather than lotto numbers, the group chose to focus on two recent events they thought time travelers might have had interest in: comet ISON's fatal brush with the sun and the election of Pope Francis. Searching for premature, correct predictions online, the group actually did turn up a single reference to Pope Francis before his election. For whatever reason, however, that reference was dubbed "accidental" rather than real evidence of time travelers in our midst.
The study, though limited and inconclusive, was the first of its kind. As it stands, Nemiroff isn't ready to admit that his results prove that time travelers aren't visiting us, only that he hasn't found them just yet.
"I'm always doing stuff on space and time," says Nemiroff. "This has been a lot of fun."