I am pleased to present the scientific inquiry into the physics of Santa Claus.
No known species of reindeer can fly. BUT there are over 300,000 species of living organisms yet to be classified and, while most of these are insects, bugs, things you squelch under your boot and germs, this does not COMPLETELY rule out flying reindeer (which, let’s face it, only Santa has ever seen).
According to UNICEF, here are 2,000,000,000 children (persons under 18) in the world.
BUT since Santa doesn’t appear to handle the Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and Bhuddist children, that reduces the workload to 15% of the total – 378,000,000 according to the US Population Reference Bureau.
At an average rate of 3.5 children per household, that’s 91.8 million homes. One presumes that there is 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 (assuming that he travels East to West, which seems logical). This works out at 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 chimney, fill the stockings, distribute his remaining presents under the tree, eat whatever goodies have been left out for him, get back up the chimney, get back into the sleigh and move to the next house.
Assuming that each of these 91.8 million stops are evenly distributed around the earth (which we know to be false, but for the purposes of these calculations we would accept), we are now talking about 0.78 miles per household, a total trip of 75.5 million miles, not counting stops to feed the reindeer …
… this means that Santa’s sleigh is moving at 650 miles per second – 3000 times the speed of sound.
For the 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 pounds (1.07 tons). Even granting that a “flying reindeer” (see point 1) could pull TEN times the normal amount, we cannot do the job with eight or even nine reindeer.
We need 214,000 reindeer.
This increases the payload – not even counting the weight of the sleigh – to 353,430 tons. Again, for comparison, this is four times the weight of the QEII ocean liner.
353,000 tons travelling at 650 miles per second creates enormous air resistance. This would heat up the reindeer in the same fashion as spacecraft re-entering the earth’s atmosphere. The lead pair of reindeer (Rudolf and chum) would absorb 14.3 quintillion joules of energy … per second … each.
In short, they would burst into flames almost instantaneously, reindeer behind them would be TOAST and they would create deafening sonic booms in their wake. The entire reindeer team would be vaporized within 4.26 thousandths of a second.
Ignoring the fireball, Santa would be subjected to centrifugal forces 17,500 times greater than gravity. A 250 pound Santa (which seems ludicrously slim, given what we know of Santa) would be pinned to the back of the sleigh by 4,315,015 pounds of force.
In conclusion, if Santa ever did deliver presents on Christmas Eve …
… he’s dead now!!!
[This article was originally published in Spy magazine, January 1990.]
Santa Publishes A Rebuttal
With the greatest of respect to my scientific colleagues in the field of Physics, if they think conventional physical models can explain my tour of duty, they have been drinking too much egg nog! Don’t even get me started on string theory …
Clearly, viewing me, Santa, as subject to conventional physics ignores the effect of conventional magic. Just to reassure everyone, Rudolf and his kin were born and raised in a magical field. Not only do they have the ability to resist several quindecillion joules of energy, they can also absorb that energy and use it to restore all the depleted batteries that are supplied with Kids’ Christmas presents. They can even repair your Christmas Tree lights, while they’re at it!
Calculating the magical field in terms of quantum physics removes the apparent paradox of my “presence” being measured in several locations within a short interval of time. As the waveform collapses down in a specific location (attracted, I suggest, by the Goodness Quantum number of the recumbent child) it becomes perfectly valid to state that a visitation has occurred.
The lack of empirical evidence must be considered in the light of a measurement effect. The process of measurement (for example, turning on the bedroom light) will almost certainly lead to a localized, space-time instability which, in turn, will cause the magic quantum effect to relax and render detection almost impossible. This explains the experimental evidence that Santa is rarely caught delivering. Indeed, on those few occasions when a sighting has been claimed, closer scrutiny has often revealed it to be an impostor (Daddy!) wearing a red cloak and beard.
Moreover, the quantum mechanical model predicts that energies involved in a magical waveform collapse will result in the emission of a jet of sub-atomic particles. Studies of bedroom carpets in the vicinity of alleged sightings, using an X-mass spectrometer, have often revealed evidence of mince pion activity; though these have usually been Hoovered up by Boxing Day. This allows the most likely sites for visitation to be estimated. These may be identified from the first derivative of the expectation value as:
It turns out that the distribution of household chimneys is exactly that required to act as a diffraction grating for objects of the predicted wavelengths, focusing the zeroth order onto the bedroom floor below (“Chimchimmeny, chimchinny, chimchin cheroo”, by Bert, Mary Poppins, 1969). This allows the quantum wavelength to form and reform quintillions of times per second, meaning that I, Santa, really can be in two places at one time!
In conclusion, not only is Santa alive and well at the North Pole …
… but he knows if you’ve been naughty or nice …
… and he’ll be there on Christmas Eve!