The Physics of Santa Claus

Well, it’s been a few days since my last post.  I’m currently reading The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin, and while it’s an interesting book, it’s also a pretty heavy Science Fiction book.  While I read a lot of books from a wide variety of genres, hard SF is really hard for me to get through.  When a book starts to focus really heavily on the science I think the character can often get lost and I just start to zone out.  I know that a lot of people enjoy these types of books a lot, but for me the balance between setting and character doesn’t work for me.

So to avoid going too long without a post, I thought I’d post something that makes me laugh.  I’ve said many times on my blog that I’m a nerd, so I’m warning you now that even though you won’t have to do any math, there are a lot of numbers in the rest of this post.  I’ll just say now that I’m not a big fan of Christmas, but this really makes me laugh, and I hope you enjoy it as well.

This is an example of physics majors with way too much time on their hands…

1) 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.

2) There are 2 billion children (persons under 18) in the world. BUT since Santa doesn’t (appear) to handle most Muslim, Hindu, 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.

3) 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 and 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.

4) 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 amount, 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 cruise ship Queen Elizabeth II.

5) 353,000 tons traveling at 650 miles per second creates enormous air resistance – this will heat the reindeer up in the same fashion as a spacecraft reentering 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 vaporized within 4.26 thousandths of a second. Santa, meanwhile, will be subjected to acceleration 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.

Leave a comment


  1. beckyday6

     /  December 18, 2011

    Ha! Thats actually awesome! Where the heck did you find this? 🙂

    • It’s something I found a couple of years ago, do a google search for ‘The Physics of Santa Claus.’

      It makes me laugh, I printed out a copy of it and I was showing it to people at the bowling alley that I work at.

  2. Love all the stats. And I do miss getting legos for Christmas.


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