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The Physics of Santa Claus

May 7, 2008


No known species of reindeer can fly. BUT there are 300,000 species of living organisms yet to be classified, and while most of these are insects and germs, this does not COMPLETELY rule out flying reindeer which only Santa has ever seen.
There are 2 billion children (persons under 18 ) in the world. BUT since Santa doesn’t (appear) to handle the Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and Buddhist children, that reduces the workload to 15% of the total – 378 million according to the Population Reference Bureau. At an average (census rate of 3.5 children per household, that’s 91.8 million homes. One presumes there’s at least one good child in each.
Santa has 31 hours of Christmas to work with, thanks to the different time zones and the rotation of the earth, and assuming he travels east to west (which seems logical). This works out to 822.6 visits per second. This is to say that for each Christian household with good children, Santa has 1/1000th of a second to park, hop out of his sleigh, jump down the chimnye, fill the stockings, distribute the remaining presents under the tree, eat whatever snacks have been left, get back up the chimney, get back into the sleigh and move on to the next house. Assuming that each of these 91.8 million stops are evenly distributed around the earth (which, of course we know to be false but for the purpose of our calculations we will accept), we are now talking aabout .78 miles per household, a total trip of 75.5 million miles, not counting stops to do what most of us must do at least once every 31 hours, plus feeding and etc.This means that Santa’s sleigh is moving at 650 miles per second, 3000 times the speed of sound. For purposes of comparison, the fastest man-made vehicle on earth, the Ulysses space probe, moves at a poky 27.4 miles per second – a conventional reindeer can run, tops, 15 miles per hour.
The payload on the sleigh adds another interesting element. Assuming that each child gets nothing more than a medium-sized lego set (2 pounds), the sleigh is carrying 321,300 tons, not counting Santa, who is invariably described as overweight. On land, conventional reindeer can pull no more than 300 punds. Even granting that “flying reindeer” (refer to point #1) could pull TEN TIMES the normal load, we cannot do the job with eight, or even nine. We need 214,200 reindeer. This increases the payload – not even counting the weight of the sleigh – 353,430 tons. Again, for comparison – this is four times the weight of the Queen Elizabeth.
353,000 tons traveling at 650 miles per second creates enormous air resistance – this will heat the reindeer up in the same fashion as spacecrafts re-entereing the earth’s atmosphere. The lead pair of reindeer will absorb 14.3 QUINTILLION joules of energy per SECOND, EACH! In short, hey will burst into flames almost instantaneously, exposing the reindeer behind them, and create a deafening sonic boom in their wake. The entire reindeer team will be vaporized within 4.26 thousanths of a second. Santa, meanwhile, will be subjected to centrifugal forces 17,500.06 times greater than gravity. A 250 pound Santa (which seems ludicrously slim) would be pinned to the back of his sleigh by 4,315,015 pounds of force.
In conclusion – If Santa ever DID deliver presents on Christmas Eve, he’s dead by now.
Santa’s Rebuttal
NORTH POLE, SANTA’S VILLAGE – For Immediate Release
It has come to the attention of Santa’s workshop that there have been disparaging remarks made in the press recently about Santa’s very existence. Several key points are overlooked by this callous, amateurish, so-called study.
As was admitted by the skeptics, there is only a very small probability of finding a flying reindeer. That is precisely because they are all located at the Workshop. Your very argument against Santa is proof of his existence! As is widely known (Re: the excellent historical documentaries “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”) the flying reindeer are not a separate species, but were in fact given the power of flight due to eating magic acorns, which is passed on in their offspring.
A series of cascading assumptions have been relied upon to show the “impossibility” of delivering all presents in one Christmas. For example, there was assumed a uniform distribution of children across homes. Toronto/Yorkville, or NYC/SOHO, or other yuppie neighborhoods, have less than the average (and don’t forget the DINK/SINK homes (Double Income No Kids, Single Income No Kids)), while the Catholic (the predominant Christian denomination) families with 10 children would skew that derived 15% of homes down a few percent.
You’ve also assumed that each home that has kids would have at least one good kid. Let us assure you that anti-selection applies, and homes with good kids tend to have more than their share of good kids? Still other single-child homes are notorious for spoiled “naughty” children and average 55% delivery on a good year. Let’s drop that number of homes down a few more percent.
A simple history lesson reminds us that, the first major schism in the Church split the Eastern Churches, centered in Byzantium, from the Western, which remained centered in Rome, prior to the Gregorian correction to the Julian calendar. The Eastern “Orthodox” Churches do not recognize the Gregorian correction for liturgical events, and their Christmas is, as a result, several days after that of the Western Churches’. Thus, Santa’s schedule is not as tight as previously indicated.
Santa does indeed FedEx a number of packages ahead of time, since he is not be able to fly into Air Force Bases, or into tower- controlled areas near airports. He’s certainly not into dodging SCUD missiles over the no-fly zones in Iraq, so he uses DHL there. Subtract some more homes.
In regards to speed and time, we can’t reveal all the details, but let us remind you of basic relativity theory: The faster you go, the slower time progresses. Do you think StarTrek came up with the idea of warp drive? So, if Santa could go faster than light, then he can easily visit all the good children which are not uniformly distributed by either concentration in each home or by number of children per household, and get home before he left so he can digest all those stale cookies and warm milk. (Has anyone thought of ice cubes?)
Aha, you say, Enterprise has matter-antimatter warp engines, Santa only has reindeer, where does he get the power to move that fast? The answer is right before your skeptical eyes! The lead pair of reindeer will absorb 14.3 quintillion joules of energy. Per second. Each. This is an ample supply of energy for the maneuvering, acceleration, etc., that would be required of the loaded sleigh. The reindeer don’t evaporate or incinerate or get crushed because of this energy; they accelerate! What do you think they have antlers for, fighting over females? Think of antlers as furry shield generator arrays.
The issue of weight constraints and delivery methods also shows a shocking lack of knowledge of basic matter/energy relations and beginning quantum physics. (Picture a two dimensional complex function mapped to the surface of a sphere with approximately 9000 nodal surfaces, and 18 million regions of relatively high amplitude.) Assuming this is getting way ahead of most people’s conceptual limits, we’ll just say that Captain Kirk wasn’t the first to say “beam me down.” Transporters, replicators, and holo-projections have been standard equipment in some workshops and certain aerospace vehicle way before the 24th century.
If that’s not enough, watch the news on the 24th at 11 o’clock. NORAD (one of the few government agencies with more than 3 initials in it’s name and therefore more trustworthy than the rest) tracks Santa every year and displays radar shots of him approaching from the North Pole. They haven’t bombarded him yet, so they must believe too, right?
We certainly hope this clears up any damage caused by the bad press. Santa dead, indeed–some people will twist any statistic model to “prove” their cynical theory.
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