No holiday season would be complete without a few scrooges humbugging about. Way back in seventh grade, my eccentric science teacher, Mike Priesbe, read us The Physics of Santa Claus, which came to the blunt conclusion “He’s dead now.” Here it is, in all of its glory, along with some creative, if unconvincing, rebuttals.

1) Flying Reindeer
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.

2) Children
There are approximately two billion children (persons under 18) in the world. However, since Santa does not visit children of Muslim, Hindu, Jewish or Buddhist religions, this reduces the workload for Christmas night to 15% of the total, or 378 million (according to the Population Reference Bureau). At an average (census) rate of 3.5 children per household, that comes to 108 million homes, presuming that there is at least one good child in each.

3) Timing
Santa has 31 hours of Christmas to work with, thanks to the different time zones and the rotation of the earth, assuming he logically travels east to west. This works out to 822.6 visits per second, so for each Christian household with good children, Santa has 1/1000th of a second to park, hop out of the sleigh, jump down the chimney, 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, we know to be false, but for our calculations we will accept), we are now talking about .78 miles per household, a total trip of 75-1/2 million miles, not counting assorted pit stops for relief, feeding, etc. This means Santa’s sleigh is moving at 650 miles per second, 3,000 times the speed of sound. In 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.

4) Weight
The payload of the sleigh adds another interesting element. Assuming that each child gets nothing more than a medium sized Lego set (two pounds), the sleigh is carrying over 500 thousand tons, not counting Santa himself. On land, a conventional reindeer can pull no more than 300 pounds. Even granting that the “flying” reindeer could pull ten times the normal amount, the job can’t be done with eight or even nine of them — Santa would need 360,000 of them. This increases the payload, not counting the weight of the sleigh, another 54,000 tons, or roughly seven times the weight of the Queen Elizabeth (the ship, not the monarch).

5) Speed
600,000 tons traveling at 650 miles per second creates enormous air resistance — this would heat up the reindeer in the same fashion as a spacecraft re-entering the earth’s atmosphere. The lead pair of reindeer would absorb 14.3 quintillion joules of energy. Per second. Each. In short, they would burst into flames almost instantaneously, exposing the reindeer behind them and creating deafening sonic booms in their wake. The entire reindeer team would be vaporized within 4.26 thousandths of a second, or right about the time Santa reached the fifth house on his trip.

Not that it matters, however, since Santa, as a result of accelerating from a dead stop to 650 m.p.s. in .001 seconds, would be subjected to centrifugal forces of 17,500 Gs. A 250 pound Santa (which seems ludicrously slim) would be pinned to the back of the sleigh by 4,315,015 pounds of force, instantly crushing his bones and organs and reducing him to a quivering blob of pink goo.

Conclusion…
If Santa ever DID deliver presents on Christmas Eve, he’s dead now.

The Physics of Santa Claus

§463 · December 15, 2004 · ·

1 Comment to “The Physics of Santa Claus”

  1. Andy says:

    I’ve seen that before, but his time it struck me how that would make an awesomely funny– if very dark– Christmas special. David Cronenberg [The Fly (1986), Videodrome] could direct.

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