The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

“How I Killed Santa”: The Physics of Santa Claus

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 18, 2009

I’m a bad, bad person.  No kidding, I’m bad – really, really bad.  I say this because in my physics classes today, I killed Santa Claus. Well, to be more accurate, what I did was use our knowledge of physics to kill the fantasy of Santa Claus (because it’s pretty damn hard to kill something that isn’t real).  And I have no guilt at all for doing this, because if 16-18 year old kids are still harboring some kind of actual belief in Santa, then they need a strong dose of reality laid on them! :)

So how did I do it?  Just how did I kill the Santa fantasy?  Here’s how… I used a brief PowerPoint presentation to make the following argument:

  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 the Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and Buddhist children, that reduces the workload to 15% of the total – 378 million according to the 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, and assuming he travels east to west (which seems logical). This works out to 822.6 visits per second.
  4. 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 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.
  5. 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 purpose of our calculations we will accept), we are now talking about .78 miles per household, a total trip of 75.5 million miles, not counting stops to do what most of us must do at least once every 31 hours, plus feeding and etc.
  6. This means that Santa’s sleigh is moving at 650 miles per second, 3000 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.
  7. 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.
  8. On land, conventional reindeer can pull no more than 300 pounds. Even granting that “flying reindeer” (refer to point #1) could pull TEN TIMES the normal load, 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 – 353,430 tons. Again, for comparison – this is four times the weight of the Queen Elizabeth (the ship, not the woman).
  9. 353,000 tons traveling at 650 miles per second creates enormous air resistance – this will heat the reindeer up in the same fashion as spacecraft re-entering the earth’s atmosphere. The lead pair of reindeer will absorb 14.3 QUINTILLION joules of energy per SECOND, EACH!
  10. In short, they will burst into flames almost instantaneously, exposing the reindeer behind them, and create a deafening sonic boom in their wake. The entire reindeer team will be vaporized within 4.26 thousandths of a second! Santa, meanwhile, will be subjected to forces 17,500 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!!!

Thus, in conclusion: If Santa ever DID deliver presents on Christmas Eve, HE’S DEAD NOW!!!

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11 Responses to ““How I Killed Santa”: The Physics of Santa Claus”

  1. Khristine said

    You physics teachers ruin everything. My physics teacher in college had a whole lesson on cartoons breaking the laws of physics. Like when an elevator cable snaps and Daffy breaks his neck on the ceiling.. I now know why that is physically impossible.

    Anyway.. great post :)

  2. Khristine said

    Comment posted at “4:28 am”???
    My blogs have the wrong time on them too. I’m too lazy to figure out how to fix it, if you ever figure it out, please share.

  3. […] “How I Killed Santa”: The Physics of Santa Claus Link to blog post… […]

  4. John T. Collier said

    The thought of Santa bursting into flames fills me with a warm holiday glow. Thanks for amusing post.

  5. Saturn said

    mattbutkiss,
    Not only did you fail to kill Santa Claus, the physics proof you offer above did not originate from you. Your lack of any personal integrity suggest we can trust nothing you have to say. With regards to Mr. Claus or Father Christmas, I’ve witnessed him and his brothers on several battlefields, small hamlets and towns too numerous to mention. As a matter of fact I saw him last night anonymously spreading his kindness and generosity. Hopefully one day you will have the opportunities I have had to witness these acts for yourself.
    If not not, at least keep your mouth shut, study hard and make the world a better place.

  6. jesika said

    you stole this off of snopes.com, its been off there for a few years now, it’s a shame that people plagerize like this. at least give credit where credits due

    • mattusmaximus said

      Actually, I didn’t steal it from Snopes.com, though there are variations of this on Snopes. The Powerpoint file I mention in my blog entry came from a physics teaching colleague of mine, who got it from an old magazine (Spy magazine, I think).

  7. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Cory Albrecht and Mysteriously Unnamed, Matt Lowry. Matt Lowry said: “How I Killed Santa”: The Physics of Santa Claus – http://tinyurl.com/3a89zvs […]

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  9. […] the holiday trappings thereof.  I’ve made numerous posts on the subject before, including The Physics of Santa Claus, how the idea of Santa Claus can be used as a tool to teach critical thinking to […]

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