Santa Claus: the skepticsLaws of traditional physics would foil Santa's effort to carry out mission

Published 25 December 2012

Santa has 31 hours to visit 378 million Christian children; at the rate of 3.5 children per household, and assuming at least one good child per home, this comes to 108 million homes; if each child receives no more than a medium sized Lego set (two pounds), the sleigh would be carrying more than 500 thousand tons, not counting Santa himself; Santa would thus need at least 360,000 Reindeer to pull the sleigh; since Santa must visit 108 million homes in 31 hours, he will have to travel at 650 miles per second — 3,000 times the speed of sound; at that speed, the lead pair of Reindeer would absorb 14.3 quintillion joules of energy per second each and vaporize — indeed, the entire Reindeer team would be vaporized within 4.26 thousandths of a second; Santa himself would be subjected to forces of 17,500 Gs; a 250 pound Santa (which seems ludicrously slim) would be pinned to the back of the sleigh by 4,315,015 pounds of force, and be crushed

The Positive Atheism Web site offers a holiday-season analysis titled “Santa Claus: A Scientific Perspective.” Here is a summary:

There are approximately two billion children (persons under 18) in the world. Since Santa does not visit children of Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, or Buddhist religions, this reduces the workload for Christmas night to 15 percent of the total, or 378 million children (according to the Population Reference Bureau). At an average (census) rate of 3.5 children per household, this comes to 108 million homes, assuming that there is at least one good child in each home.

Santa has about thirty-one 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 967.7 visits per second.

This means that for each Christian household with at least one good child, Santa has around 1/1000th of a second to park the sleigh, hop out, jump down the chimney, fill the stockings, distribute the remaining presents under the tree, eat whatever snacks have been left for him, get back up the chimney, jump into the sleigh, and get on to the next house. Assuming that each of these 108 million stops is evenly distributed around the Earth (which we know to be false, but will accept for the purposes of our calculations), we are now talking about 0.78 miles per house hold; a total trip of 75.5 million miles, not counting bathroom stops or breaks. This means 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, the Ulysses space probe, moves at a poky 27.4 miles per second, and a conventional Reindeer can run (at best) 15 miles per hour.

The payload of the sleigh adds another problematic element. Assuming that each child gets nothing more than a medium sized Lego set (two pounds), the sleigh is carrying more than 500 thousand tons, not counting Santa himself.

On land, a conventional Reindeer can pull no more than 300 pounds. Even granting that the “flying” Reindeer could pull ten times the normal amount, the job cannot be done with eight or even nine of them — Santa would need no fewer than 360,000 Reindeer. This increases the payload, not counting the weight of the sleigh, another 54,000 tons, or roughly seven times the weight of the Queen Elizabeth (the ship, not the monarch).

Now, 600,000 tons traveling at 650 miles per second create enormous air resistance — this would heat up the Reindeer in the same fashion as a spacecraft re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere. The lead pair of Reindeer would absorb 14.3 quintillion joules of energy per second each. In short, they would burst into flames almost instantaneously, exposing the Reindeer behind them and creating deafening sonic booms in their wake. The entire Reindeer team would be vaporized within 4.26 thousandths of a second, or right about the time Santa reached the fifth house on his trip. Not that it matters, however, since Santa, as a result of accelerating from a dead stop to 650 miles per second in .001 seconds, would be subjected to forces of 17,500 Gs. A 250 pound Santa (which seems ludicrously slim) would be pinned to the back of the sleigh by 4,315,015 pounds of force, instantly crushing his bones and organs and reducing him to a quivering blob of pink goo.

Therefore, if Santa did exist, the laws of physics would tell us that he is dead now.

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