I love this cool visualisation of Santa Claus' Christmas Eve trip as seen from space but, with the current laws of physics, we know he wouldn't be able do it. Or would he? Can Santa be real and deliver on his promises? The question is tricky, as this scientific debate shows. Let the classic scientific fight begin once again.
The first argument against Santa's existence comes from astronomer and astrophysicist Linda Harden — formerly known as The Human Neutrino. She outlined her rationale with demolishing logic in this classic post:
Is there a Santa Claus?
- No known species of reindeer can fly. BUT there are 300,000 species of living organisms yet to be classified, and while most of these are insects and germs, this does not COMPLETELY rule out flying reindeer which only Santa has ever seen.
- 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 total - 378 million according to 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.
- 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 .78 miles per household, a total trip of 75-1/2 million miles, not counting stops to do what most of us must do at least once every 31 hours, plus feeding etc.
- 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 on earth, the Ulysses space probe, moves at a poky 27.4 miles per second - a conventional reindeer can run, tops, 15 miles per hour.
- 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 granting that "flying reindeer" (see point #1) could pull TEN TIMES the normal anoint, we cannot do the job with eight, or even nine. We need 214,200 reindeer. This increases the payload - not even counting the weight of the sleigh - to 353,430 tons. Again, for comparison - this is four times the weight of the Queen Elizabeth.
- 353,000 tons travelling at 650 miles per second creates enormous air resistance - this will heat the reindeer up in the same fashion as spacecrafts re-entering the earth's atmosphere. The lead pair of reindeer will absorb 14.3 QUINTILLION joules of energy. Per second. Each. In short, they will burst into flame almost instantaneously, exposing the reindeer behind them, and create deafening sonic booms in their wake.The entire reindeer team will be vaporised within 4.26 thousandths of a second. Santa, meanwhile, will be subjected to centrifugal forces 17,500.06 times greater than 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 conclusion — If Santa ever DID deliver presents on Christmas Eve, he's dead now.
Seems reasonable to me: Even if he existed, he would either burn at once or just be an fat liar who lives comfortably in a North Pole hideout surrounded by little eunuchs with pointy ears.
Rebuttal 1: The believer argument
BUT, why end there? Here's a counterargument by programmer Jim Mantle:
Come on, ya gotta believe! I mean, if you can handle flying furry animals, then it's only a small step to the rest. For example:
- As admitted, it is possible that a flying reindeer can be found. I would agree that it would be quite an unusual find, but they might exist.
- You've relied on cascading assumptions. For example, you have assumed a uniform distribution of children across homes. Toronto/Yorkville, or Toronto/Cabbagetown, or other yuppie neighbourhoods, have probably less than the average (and don't forget the DINK and SINK homes (Double Income No Kids, Single Income No Kids)), while the families with 748 starving children that they keep showing on Vision TV while trying to pick my pocket would skew that 15% of homes down a few per cent.
- You've also assumed that each home that has kids would have at least one good kid. What if anti-selection applies, and homes with good kids tend to have more than their share of good kids, and other homes have nothing except terrorists in diapers? Let's drop that number of homes down a few more per cent.
- Santa would have to Fedex a number of packages ahead of time, since he would not be able to fly into Air Force Bases, or into tower-controlled areas near airports. He's get shot at over certain sections of the Middle East, and the no-fly zones in Iraq, so he'd probably use DHL there. Subtract some more homes.
- I just barely passed Physics and only read Stephen Hawking's book once, but I recall that there is some Einsteinian Theory that says time does strange things as you move faster. In fact, when you go faster than the speed of light time runs backward, if you do a straight line projection, connect the dots and just ignore any singularity you might find right at the speed of light. And don't say you can't go faster than the speed of light because I've seen it done on TV. Jean-Luc doesn't have reindeer but he does have matter-antimatter warp engines and a holodeck and that's good enough for me.
- So Santa could go faster than light, visit all the good children which are not uniformly distributed by either concentration in each home or by number of children per household, and get home before he left so he can digest all those stale cookies and warm milk yech.
- Aha, you say, Jean-Luc has matter-antimatter warp engines, Santa only has reindeer, where does he get the power to move that fast!
- You calculated the answer! The lead pair of reindeer will absorb 14.3 quintillion joules of energy. Per second. Each. This is an ample supply of energy for the manoeuvring, acceleration, etc, that would be required of the loaded sleigh. The reindeer don't evaporate or incinerate because of this energy, they accelerate. What do you think they have antlers for, fighting over females? Think of antlers as furry solar array panels.
- If that's not enough, watch the news on the 24th at 11 o'clock. NORAD (which may be one of the few government agencies with more than 3 initials in it's name and therefore it must be more trustworthy than the rest) tracks Santa every year and I've seen the radar shots of him approaching my house from the direction of the North Pole. They haven't bombarded him yet, so they must believe too, right?
Rebuttal 2: The religious person's answer
Several key points are overlooked by this callous, amateurish "study."
- Flying reindeer: As is widely known (due to the excellent historical documentary "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," the flying reindeer are not a previously unknown species of reindeer, but were in fact given the power of flight due to eating magic acorns. As is conclusively proven in "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" (a no punches pulled look at life in Santa's village), this ability has bred true in subsequent generations of reindeer, obviously the magic acorns imprinted their power on a dominant gene sequence within the reindeer DNA strand.
- Number of households: This figure overlooks two key facts. First of all, the first major schism in the Church split the Eastern Churches, centered in Byzantium, from the Western, which remained centered in Rome. This occurred prior to the Gregorian correction to the Julian calendar. The Eastern churches (currently called Orthodox Churches) do not recognise the Gregorian correction for liturgical events, and their Christmas is as a result several days after the Western Churches'. Santa gets two shots at delivering toys.
- Secondly, the figure of 3.5 children per household is based on the gross demographic average, which includes households with no children at all. The number of children per household, when figured as an average for households with children, would therefore have to be adjusted upward. Also, the largest single Christian denomination is Roman Catholic, who, as we all know, breed like rabbits. If you don't believe me, ask my four brothers and two sisters, they will back me up. Due to the predominance of Catholics within Christian households, the total number of households containing Christian children would have to be adjusted downward to reflect the overloading of Catholics beyond a standard deviation from the median.
- Also, the assertion that each home would contain at least one good child would be reasonable enough if there were in fact an even 3.5 children per household. However, since the number of children per household is distributed integrally, there are a significant number (on the order of several million) of one child Christian households. Even though only children are notoriously spoiled and therefore disproportionately inclined towards being naughty, since it's the holidays we'll be generous and give them a fifty-fifty chance of being nice. This removes one half of the single child households from Santa's delivery schedule, which has already been reduced by the removal of the Orthodox households from the first delivery run.
- Santa's delivery run (speed, payload, etc.): These all suffer from the dubious supposition that there is only one Santa Claus. The name "Santa" is obviously either Spanish or Italian, two ethnic groups which are both overwhelmingly Catholic. The last name Claus suggests a joint German/Italian background. His beginnings, battling the Burgermeister Meisterburger, suggest he grew up in Bavaria (also predominantly Catholic). The Kaiser style helmets of the Burgermeister's guards, coupled with the relative isolation of the village, suggest that his youth was at the very beginning of Prussian influence in Germany. Thus, Santa and Mrs. Claus have been together for well over one hundred years. If you think that after a hundred years of living at the North Pole with nights six months long that they remain childless, you either don't know Catholics or are unaware of the failure rate of the rhythm method. There have therefore been over five generations of Clauses, breeding like Catholics for over one hundred years. Since they are Catholic, their exponential population increase would obviously have a gain higher than the world population as a whole. There have therefore been more than enough new Santas to overcome the population increase of the world. So in fact, Santa has an easier time of it now than he did when he first started out.
Santa's dead, indeed; some people will twist any statistic to "prove" their cynical theory.
What do you think? Do you have a scientific (ish) theory as to how Santa Claus may exist and deliver on his yearly chores? The comments are all yours.