According to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the existence of Santa Claus is highly improbable. But the reason is math, not myth. Read on as an engineer breaks down the numbers (and ruins Christmas for all of us).
The number of kiddos (excluding those of the Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, and Buddhist religions) in the world is approximately 378 million. At 3.5 children per house, the number of households Santa has to deliver presents to amounts to roughly 108 million.
Thanks to time zones and the Earth’s rotation, Santa has about 31 hours of Christmas. In other words, he has to make about 967.7 household visits per second. (Eating cookies that fast can’t be good for you.)
Assuming (for calculation purposes) that the 108 million stops are evenly distributed around the world, Santa has to travel about 0.78 miles per household—a total trip of 75.5 million miles. To accomplish this, his sleigh would have to travel at 650 miles per second, or 3,000 times the speed of sound.
Assuming each child receives two pounds of presents, Santa’s sleigh is schlepping over 500 thousand tons.
Reindeer can pull no more than 300 pounds, although it is assumed that flying reindeer can pull ten times the normal amount. Move over Rudolph; Santa needs a fleet of 360,000 magical caribou, which adds 54,000 tons (not counting Santa or his sleigh) to the overall payload.
600,000 tons traveling at 650 miles per second creates air resistance comparable to that of a spacecraft re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere. This would cause the lead reindeer (Rudolph) to burst into flames and all subsequent reindeer (Dasher, Dancer, etc.) to be vaporized within the first 4.26 thousands of a second of the trip.
Meanwhile, the sleigh’s acceleration to 650 miles per second would expose Santa to 17,500 g’s—pinning his 250 pound (debatable) frame to the back of the sleigh under 4,315,015 pounds of force.
Bottom line: Santa Claus ain’t coming to town…because physics has rendered him a pile of goo.
But of course, if you were to ask any child how Santa does it, the answer would be: magic. And that’s something science simply can’t quantify.
Filed Under: Aerospace + defense