"Madame, bear in mind That princes govern all things--save the wind." -Victor Hugo, The Infanta's Rose

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

An Engineer's Christmas

We're in Houston tonight, fortunately at a hotel with high-speed Internet access. After my post yesterday in which I spoke of The Engineer and the half-full glass, a fellow techo-geek sent me this gem. For anyone who's ever wondered how Santa can leave presents for kids all over the world in one night, here's the scoop from someone who has figured it all out:

There are approximately two billion children (persons under 18) in the world. However, since Santa does not visit children of Muslim, Hindu, Jewish or Buddhist (except maybe in Japan) religions, this reduces the workload for Christmas night to 15% of the total, or 378 million (according to the population reference bureau). At an average (census) rate of 3.5 children per household, that comes to 108 million homes, presuming there is at least one good child in each.

Santa has about 31 hours of Christmas to work with, thanks to the different time zones and the rotation of the earth, assuming east to west (which seems logical). This works out to 967.7 visits per second. This is to say that for each Christian household with a good child, Santa has around 1/1000th of a second to park the sleigh, hop out, jump down the chimney, fill the stocking, 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 onto the next house.

Assuming that each of these 108 million stops is evenly distributed around the earth (which, of course, we know to be false, but will accept for the purposes of our calculations), we are now talking about 0.78 miles per household; 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 interesting element. Assuming that each child gets nothing more than a medium sized LEGO set (two pounds), the sleigh is carrying over 500 thousands tons, not counting Santa himself. On land, a conventional reindeer can pull no more than 300 pounds. Even granting that the "flying" reindeer can pull 10 times the normal amount, the job can’t be done with eight or even nine of them: Santa would need 360,000 of them. 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).

600,000 tons traveling at 650 miles per second creates 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 adsorb 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 much, since Santa, as a result of accelerating from a dead stop to 650 mps in .001 seconds, would be subjected to acceleration forces of 17,000 g’s. 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, he’s dead now.

Merry Christmas!


  • At 12/21/2006 03:43:00 AM, Blogger sumo said…

    My head is spinning!

  • At 12/21/2006 10:48:00 AM, Blogger jbwritergirl said…

    Thanks for clearing all that up. Hope your trip is going well.

  • At 12/22/2006 12:04:00 AM, Blogger kuanyin333 said…

    Good posting! Happy Holy Daze! Check out my version of Santa on Blog-Blond.

  • At 12/30/2006 09:25:00 PM, Blogger bossann said…

    My lute playing friend says that this is rather Grinch-y...everyone knows that reindeers and the sleigh have shields and that the laws of physics don't apply! Anyone that has been flying around every Dec. 25th for centuries has to have some sort of mojo going for them...perhaps Santa is a descendant of the anciet Aztecs or, dare I say, extra-terrestrials? Surely someone that has been around that long has a lot more knowledge of (and power over) physics. We are very full of ourselves to think that we can understand this magic!

    Merry Christmas, Mr Grinch! (bear in mind that this is really from the lute-playing friend...not me!)

  • At 12/31/2006 10:40:00 AM, Blogger bossann said…

    All I personally have to say is: Thanks for the uproarious laughter! Whoever came up with these stats has WAY too much time on his/her hands!

    I hope you had a spectacular Christmas!


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