The Science Behind The Great Santa Debate

by Kevin Burton

   Just so you know, the one who knows when you are sleeping, awake, bad or good etc., is God, not Santa. 

    I believe this is true, despite the research of Mr. Ethan Siegel, writing in Forbes Magazine. He says there is, or could be, a Santa and he uses science to make his case under the headline “The Physics of Santa Claus.”

   He says factoring for time zones Santa would have about 31 hours, from nightfall in the first zone to just before dawn in the last one to deliver the goods.

   We’re talking 1.6 billion households. He says earth has 25 million square miles of habitable land and figures the average distance between houses is 0.205 miles. 

   This means Santa has 223 microseconds to hit each house.  There are a million microseconds in a second.  So by the time you say “a-thousand-one” Santa has to deliver to 4,484 households. I say this is out of the question. But Siegel thinks otherwise. Below, he has his say.

.   “Maybe for a normal human with conventional technology, sure. But I have faith in Santa, and so should you,” Siegel writes. “Let’s take a look at each of the objections you may have.”

1.) There’s no way Santa could travel to each house that quickly. This actually isn’t all that fast. At least, not compared to relativity and the speed of light. To move the mean distance from house-to-house, Santa need only travel at around 6,400 miles-per-hour. Sure, that might seem awfully fast compared to your typical sleigh, or even supersonic aircraft. But that’s only about a quarter as fast as most rockets go. If you fuel up those reindeer right, there’s no reason to believe Santa can’t make that journey.

2.) There’s no way an open sleigh and a Santa within could handle the heat or acceleration generated. Moving at those intense speeds, the frictional forces of the atmosphere alone could be a disaster. Santa would need to dissipate somewhere on the order of a few trillion Joules of heat each second of travel, a tremendous amount. But there are two ways out:

   He could have a heat shield protecting both the reindeer and himself, allowing him to travel freely. This is a problem, if we’re considering an open sleigh. But the second option is he could have such an aerodynamically advanced vehicle that the air in front of him is mostly evacuated, leaving only a smooth breeze. Give Santa a little bit of oxygen, and he’s good to go.

   The accelerations are a little rougher. Going from 0-to-60 mph in a tenth of a second is a disaster for most people; you’d pass out (or worse) from the acceleration. So going from 0-to-6,000 seems out of the question!  What Santa needs is a way to keep his blood flowing normally through all of this. A sufficiently pressurized suit, combined with a biological turbine system that’s far more powerful than a human heart could do it.

3.) How could Santa get into all those houses so quietly, and never leave footprints? Stealthy isn’t exactly the picture you get from an overweight, elderly man traveling all over the world and wearing boots. Yet if Santa can land, there’s no reason he couldn’t be placed into the house from outside, via a mechanical rig attached to the sleigh. Whether through a door, window, chimney or other device, a robotic arm with Santa-capacity could easily handle this. This is a tall order for any human, so there’s no reason to believe Santa hasn’t instituted a bit of technological Christmas magic.

What, and you though elves were only good for making toys?

4.) How could he deliver the presents so fast? If he had to do it all by hand, I could understand your objections. But if Santa has a robotic arm putting him inside, surely it could help him drop off and deposit presents. Literally a fraction of a second would be all it takes, and then he’d be gone.

5.) What about the eating of the snacks? This actually works out brilliantly. It takes a tremendous amount of energy, hence fuel, to drag all of these presents all over the world.

   Assuming Santa comes fully laden with the toys, he has somewhere around a million tons to deliver, assuming about 4.5 pounds of toys per household. Think of that the next time you ask Santa for a pony, kids! This is about four thousand times the payload capacity of the largest aircraft, the Antonov An-225, which transports things like the space shuttle.

   Rocket fuel is expensive and inefficient! Only about 0.001 percent of the mass in rocket fuel goes into energy. But what if the reindeer, the power behind Santa Claus, could turn those milk and cookies into energy via Einstein’s E=mc2?

   Quite amazingly, the tiny, amounts of mass in even a single, small cookie (when added up) could power Santa and all the toys in the world from one house to the next, because E=mc2 is 100 percent efficient. The leftovers, of course, are all for Santa.

   Now if only we could answer the greatest of all Christmas mysteries: how does he go to the bathroom?

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