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The quest to find those who have come back from the future all started over a poker game.

Astrophysicist Robert Nemiroff and his students were playing cards (for chips) last summer, chatting about Facebook. They wondered: If there were time travelers among us, would they be on social media? How would you find them? Could you Google them?

“We had a whimsical little discussion about this,” said Nemiroff, a professor at Michigan Technological University. The result was a serious-but-fun effort to tease out travelers from the future by sifting through the Internet. Unfortunately, they have uncovered no DeLorean time machines, but that hasn’t made the search less interesting.