Scientific Santa

Xmas sleigh

Greetings! Here’s a thought to ponder on whilst having a drink and a mince pie…

No known species of reindeer can fly but it is estimated that there are 300,000 species of living organisms yet to be classified, and whilst most of these are insects and germs, this doesn’t completely rule out flying reindeer.  A clever person once said that you shouldn’t dismiss a thing just because you don’t know how it works – yet.  So let’s look at some statistics to see if at least this proposition is possible…

There are 2 billion children 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, which according to the PRB (Population Reference Bureau) is 378 million. At an average (census) rate of 3.5 children per household that’s 91.8 million homes.

Due to the different time zones across the world and the rotation of the earth, Santa has 31 hours of Christmas to work with, which works out at 822.6 visits per second. So the Big Guy has 1/1000th of a second to park, hop out of the sleigh, jump down the chimney, fill the sacks or stockings, distribute the remaining presents under the tree, eat whatever snacks have been left, get back under the chimney, get back into the sleigh and move on to the next house.

Assuming these 91.8 million stops are evenly distributed around the earth there will be about 78 miles between each household (averaged out for ease of calculation). A total trip of 75.5 million miles not counting stops to use the facilities.  This means that Santa’s sleigh is moving at 650 miles per second, which is much faster than the speed of sound.

For the purposes of comparison, your average space probe moves at 27.4 miles per second and a conventional reindeer can run, tops, about 15 miles an hour.

Notwithstanding, here’s another interesting dimension to the proposition. Assuming that each child gets nothing more than a medium sized Lego set weighing around 2 pounds, the sleigh will be carrying 321,000 tons plus Santa who is invariable described as overweight.  On land, conventional reindeer can pull no more than 300 pounds so 214,200 reindeer would be needed to do the job well.

This increases the payload, not counting the weight of the sleigh, to 353,430 tons.  Again, for comparison, this is four times the weight of the QE2.

Now then, 353,000 tons travelling at 650 miles per second will create enormous air resistance and I’m reliably informed that this will heat up the reindeer in the same fashion as spacecraft re-entering the earth’s atmosphere. Thus the lead pair of reindeer will each absorb 14.3 quintillion joules of energy per second causing them to burst into flame exposing the reindeer behind them and creating deafening sonic booms in their wake.

The entire reindeer team comprising 214,200 will be vaporised within 4.26 thousandths of a second.  Santa meanwhile will be subject to centrifugal forces roughly 17,500 times greater than gravity. Quite a picture to visualise the Big Guy pinned to the back of his sleigh by a force of 4,315,015 pounds. I suppose he’d be dead; so the proposition is not possible.

Ah well, back to the cooking wine…I’ll see what Professor Brian Cox is doing in the Christmas Lectures and learn some proper science.  Meanwhile, I like the magic so here’s hoping the Big Guy defies science and delivers something nice to you and yours…

Chris Scholes



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