December 24, 2012 11:45 am
Have you ever wondered just how Santa delivers presents to every nice kid on Earth in just one night? Well, of course, he’s got flying reindeer, and some magic on his side. But what about physics? Niel De Grasse Tyson was on NPR explaining one way Santa might do it:
He says that Santa isn’t traveling at insane speeds, but instead is creating little worm holes inside each home to get his gifts delivered. This is a more probable scenario than the reindeer and sleigh situation for a number of reasons. Here’s one take on Santa, assuming that the jolly fat man has to hit 91.8 million homes (based on the Population Reference Bureau’s estimate of Christian children in the world):
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.
They then work in the weight of the sleigh:
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.
Which means they’d need something like 214,200 reindeer to pull it along. Adding the whole thing up, Santa, plus reindeer, plus sleigh, plus presents winds up at a jolly 353,430 tons. So a 353,000 ton team would ave to travel 3,000 times the speed of sound, which would create 14.3 quintillion joules of energy. Per pair of reindeer. And the result:
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 vaporized 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.
Now, not everyone is satisfied with these grinchly calculations. One physicist at North Carolina State, Larry Silverberg, says that relativity could be a possible out. Popular Science writes:
Silverberg and his students found a more realistic scenario: relativity clouds. Relativity clouds, based on relative physics, allow Santa to stretch time like a rubber band and give him months to deliver gifts, while only a few minutes pass for the rest of us. (Silverberg theorizes that Santa’s understanding of relative physics is far greater than our own.)
Silverberg’s theory is plausible, says Danny Maruyama, a doctoral candidate researching systems physics at the University of Michigan. If Santa were to travel at about the speed of light, share the delivery work-load with his elves and makes use of relativity clouds, he would be able to deliver the presents in about five minutes Earth time, Maruyama says. “While I don’t know much about relativity clouds myself, I think it’s very possible that a man who flies in a sleigh, lives with elves, and has flying pet reindeer could have the technology needed to utilize relativity clouds,” he says.
So don’t let physics get in the way of your Santa loving—whether it’s worm holes or relativity clouds—it’s totally possible.
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