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Is There a Santa Claus?

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No known species of reindeer can fly. However, there are 300,000 species of living organisms yet to be classified. While most of these are insects and germs, this does not completely preclude flying reindeer.

There are over 2 billion children (persons under 18 according to the Convention on the Rights of the Child) in the world. But, since Santa doesn't (apparently) handle the Moslem, Hindu, Jewish and Buddhist children (or the Communists), his workload is reduced to 15% of the total - 378 million according to Statistics Canada. At an average (census) rate of 3.5 children per household, this is 91.8 million homes. One presumes 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 he travels East to West (which seems logical). He must, therefore, make 822.6 visits per second. That is to say, for each qualifying household with good children Santa has 1/1000th of a second to park, hop out of the sleigh, slither down the chimney, fill the stockings, parcel out the remaining presents under the tree, set up the train set, scoff down the cookies and milk, crawl back up the chimney, climb into the sleigh and dash on to the next house.

Assuming that each of these 91.8 million stops is evenly distributed around the Earth (which, of course, we know to be false but for the purposes of our calculations we will accept), there is one household every .78 miles (.35 km), making a total trip of 75.5 million miles (121.77 million km), not counting stops to do what most of us do at least once every 31 hours, plus feeding the reindeer and other incidentals.

That means that Santa's sleigh is moving at 650 miles (1048 km) per second, 3000 times the speed of sound. For purposes of comparison, the fastest person-made vehicle on Earth, the Ulysses space probe, moves at a mere 27.4 miles (44.2 km) per second. A conventional reindeer can run, tops, 15 miles (24.2 km) per hour.

The payload on the sleigh adds another interesting element. Assuming that each child gets nothing more than a medium-size Lego set (2 pounds, .9 kg) or a small-size Barbie make-up kit (3 pounds, 1.36 kg), the sleigh would be carrying 321,000 tons (145,910 metric tons), not counting Santa, who is invariably described as overweight. On land, conventional reindeer can pull no more than 300 pounds (136 kg). Even granting that "flying reindeer" (see above) could pull ten times the normal amount, we cannot do the job with eight or even nine reindeer. We would need 214,200 reindeer. This would increase the payload - not even counting the weight of the sleigh - to 353,430 tons (160,650 metric tons). Again, for comparison, this is four times the weight of the Queen Elizabeth ocean liner.

353,430 tons (160,650 metric tons) travelling at 650 miles (1048 km) per second creates enormous air resistance. This would heat the reindeer up in the same fashion as a spacecraft re-entering the Earth's atmosphere. The lead pair of reindeer would absorb 14.3 quintillion kilojoules of energy per second, each. In short, they would burst into flame almost instantaneously, exposing the reindeer behind them, and creating a deafening sonic boom in their wake. The entire reindeer team would be vapourized within 4.26 thousandths of a second.

Santa, meanwhile, would be subjected to centrifugal forces of 17,500.06 G (17,500.06 times the gravity at sea level). A 250-pound (114 kg) Santa (which seems ludicrously slim) would be pinned to the back of his sleigh by 4,315,015 pounds (1,961,370 kg) of force.

In conclusion, if Santa ever did deliver presents on Christmas Eve, he's dead now.

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This page was updated on 18 December 2007.

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