Physics of Santa
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The Physics of Santa Claus


(1)  No known species of reindeer can fly. But, it is estimated that there are 300,000 species of living organisms yet to be classified.  Most of these are believed to be insects and germs, but this does not completely rule out flying reindeer.

(2)  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 total378 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.

(3)  Santa has 31 hours of Christmas to work with, thanks to the different time zones and the rotation of the earth, 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 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, of course, we know to be false but for the purposes of our calculations we will accept, we are now talking about 0.78 miles per household, a total trip of 75-1/2 million miles, not counting pottie stops, plus feeding, etc.

(4)  This means that Santa’s sleigh is moving at 650 miles per second, 3,000 times the speed of sound. For purposes of comparison, the fastest man-made vehicle ever, the Ulysses space probe, moves at a pokey 27.4 miles per second through the vacuum of deep space. A conventional reindeer can run, by the way, tops, 15 miles per hour.

(5)  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. Even if we assume that “flying reindeer” could pull ten times the normal amount, we cannot do the job with eight, or even nine. We would need 214,200 reindeer. This increases the payload not even counting the weight of the sleighto 353,430 tons. Again, for comparison, this is four times the weight of the Queen Elizabeth (the cruise ship, not the monarch herself).

6)   353,000 tons traveling at 650 miles per second creates enormous air resistance. This will heat the reindeer up in the same fashion as a spacecraft’s heat shield when re-entering the earth’s atmosphere. The lead pair of reindeer will absorb 14.3 quintillion joules of energy.  Per second. Per reindeer. In short, they will burst into flames almost instantaneously, exposing the reindeer behind them, and create deafening sonic booms in their wake. The entire reindeer team will be vaporized within 4.26 thousandths of a second. Santa, meanwhile, will be subjected to centrifugal forces 17,500 times greater than that of 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 summary, the Santa story, while not disproved, should be viewed with

some skepticism in light of all of the considerable physics problems involved.


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