reindeer1I am pleased to present the annual scientific inquiry into Santa Claus:

No known species of reindeer can fly. BUT there are over 300,000 species of living organisms yet to be classified and, while most of these are insects, bugs, things you squelch under your boot and germs, this does not COMPLETELY rule out flying reindeer (which, let’s face it, only Santa has ever seen).

There are 2,000,000,000 children (persons under 18) in the world. BUT since Santa doesn’t appear to handle the Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and Bhuddist children, that reduces the workload to 15% of the total – 378,000,000 according to the US Population Reference Bureau. At an average rate of 3.5 children per household, that’s 91.8 million homes. One presumes that there is at least one good child in each.
santa3Santa has 31 hours of Christmas to work with, thanks to the different time zones and the rotation of the earth (assuming that he travels East to West, which seems logical). This works out at 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 his sleigh, jump down the chimney, fill the stockings, distribute his remaining presents under the tree, eat whatever goodies have been left out for him, get back up the chimney, get back into the sleigh and move to the next house. Assuming that each of these 91.8 million stops are evenly distributed around the earth (which we know to be false, but for the purposes of these calculations we would accept), we are now talking about 0.78 miles per household, a total trip of 75.5 million miles, not counting stops to do what most of us do at least once every 31 hours, plus feeding the reindeer …
image002… this means that Santa’s sleigh is moving at 650 miles per second – 3000 times the speed of sound. For the 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 (1.07 tons).

reindeer3Even granting that a “flying reindeer” (see point 1) could pull TEN times the normal amount, we cannot do the job with eight or even nine reindeer. We need 214,000 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 QEII ocean liner.

reindeer2353,000 tons travelling at 650 miles per second creates enormous air resistance. This would heat up the reindeer in the same fashion as spacecraft re-entering the earth’s atmosphere. The lead pair of reindeer (Rudolf and chum) would absorb 14.3 quintillion joules of energy      … per second      … each.

In short, they would burst into flames almost instantaneously, reindeer behind them would be TOAST and they would create deafening sonic booms in their wake. The entire reindeer team would be vaporised within 4.26 thousandths of a second.

Ignoring the fireball, Santa would be subjected to centrifugal forces 17,500 times greater than gravity.
A 250 pound Santa (which seems ludicrously slim, given what we know of Santa) would be pinned to the back of the sleigh by 4,315,015 pounds of force.

 In conclusion, if Santa ever did deliver presents on Christmas Eve …

… he’s dead now!!!

[This article was originally published in Spy magazine, January 1990.]

Is Santa Dead? – A Rebuttal

Matthew Davies and Martin Slaughter

With the festive season upon us, many scientific minds will yet again be attempting to solve that perennial chestnut, the Travelling Santa Problem (or TSP). This problem was first brought to our attention by the child prodigy, Vernon P. Templeman, in his seminal paper “Please may I have a bike for Christmas, Daddy” (J. Appl. Window Shopping, December 1988, vol 7, p 1-122).

In simple terms, the problem boils down to one of speed. How can Father Christmas visit the homes of all the children in the world in a single night, albeit 24 hours long? Templeman demonstrated that the classical (sequential) explanation forces us to invoke faster-than-light travel, which is somewhat at odds with current thinking.

Thus, he argued, we should infer that the Father Christmas effect does not really exist. This contentious hypothesis was the subject of much debate at a recent symposium held at the Santa Fe Institute for Present Research.

Our initial thoughts were that Templeman had over-estimated the size of the problem, forgetting that Santa only visits good children. This would reduce the number of visits by a factor of order 10^9.

However, a simple back-of-the-lab-coat calculation shows that this renders the problem no more tractable. This threw suspicion on the use of classical physics. At this stage, the teachings of our old mentor, Erwin Schroedinger, came back to us (“Famous people what we claim to have known, honest”, by Matthew Davies and Martin Slaughter, Annals of Physics, 1983, vol 12, pp 379-381). From a detailed study of reported phenomena, it became apparent that Santa shared many of the characteristics of elementary particles, suggesting a quantum mechanical interpretation of his behavior. We have since developed this theory, and are confident that a quantum mechanical model of Santa Claus allows many of his observed properties to be explained, and several interesting predictions to be made.

Clearly, viewing Santa as a waveform removes the apparent paradox of his “presence” being measured in several locations within a short interval of time. As the waveform collapses down in a specific location (attracted, we suggest, by the Goodness Quantum number of the recumbent child) it becomes perfectly valid to state that a “visitation” has occurred.

However, our calculations suggest that the process of measurement (for example, turning on the bedroom light) will almost certainly lead to a localized, space-time instability which, in turn, will cause the waveform to relax and render detection almost impossible.

Once again, this ties in with the experimental evidence that Father Christmas is rarely caught delivering. Indeed, on those few occasions when a sighting has been claimed in the literature (“Mummy, mummy, there’s a strange man in my bedroom” by S. T. U. Peedo, Journal of Sleepless Nights, 1979, vol 5, p 35), closer scrutiny has often revealed it to be an imposter wearing a red cloak and beard.

Moreover, the quantum mechanical model predicts that energies involved in a waveform collapse will result in the emission of a jet of sub-atomic particles. Studies of bedroom carpets in the vicinity of alleged sightings, using an X-mass spectrometer, have often revealed evidence of mince pion activity; though these have usually been Hoovered up.

  • One of the most appealing aspects of our theory is the manner in which it allows the most likely sites for visitation to be estimated. These may be identified from the first derivative of the expectation value as:

It turns out that the distribution of household chimneys is exactly that required to act as a diffraction grating for objects of Santa’s predicted wavelengths, focusing the zeroth order onto the bedroom floor below (“Chimchimmeny, chimchinny, chimchin cheroo”, by Bert, Mar. Popp. 1969).

  • Yet another predication which agrees with commonly reported observations concerns the Christmas Stocking effect. Within the general theory, the stocking would be expected to act as an infinite potential well, momentarily capturing the Santa waveform. The resonance within the stocking is predicted to transfer energy from any batteries within the well (causing them to run out by Boxing Day) before collapsing back down to a new ground state characterized by a tangerine in the toe.
  • Apart from the successes reported above, the theory makes a number of predictions about rather low probability events; that is, events expected to occur in fewer than one hundred homes in the world each year (for example, a full night’s sleep for parents of under-8s; no clothes given as presents; fairy lights still working from last year). In order to collect the huge volume of data needed to assess these rare events, we have decided to appeal to the scientific community for help.

Well as the few observations available fit the theory, a detailed experiment to provide quantitative support is now necessary. This will require a vast amount of data to be collected with observations from as many global locations as possible.

New Scientist’s readers are, therefore, asked to maintain a Yule log of the events in their domestic laboratories and to send their results to the authors via the magazine. Participants are requested to make a note of the following:

  1. Their children’s Goodness Quantum number;
  2. The approximate dimensions of their bedroom;
  3. Whether Santa visits and, if so, at what time;
  4. Their address and galactic space coordinates (or postcode);
  5. Any evidence of Charm or Strangeness;
  6. Whether Santa is seen to be spinning (needed to check the “No L” theory)
  7. The number of presents left;
  8. The color of his reindeer’s nose (often quoted as red when seen moving away at speed, but unknown in its rest frame).

On a note of caution, participants are urged not to try to localize Santa as the delta x equals or is greater than h relationship suggests that the energies involved could demolish a timber frame building.

At a time when Europe is leading the world in fundamental physics research we hope that this knotty problem can be resolved with this experiment. The Americans are not far behind, with Senate approval for the $12 trillion Turkey/Anti-Turkey Synchronous Santatron. Let us make sure we cook their goose before they foil our efforts.


This article was originally published as “In Search of Schrodinger’s Reindeer,” New Scientist – 23rd December 1989.