Christmas is, of course, the time of year where we celebrate the life, work and sacrifice of history's most famous bearded figure - Santa.
Tradition states that Santa Claus visits the home of every good child on Earth to dispense gifts and gobble down whatever treats have been left laying around. What's more, he does this all in one night, resulting in a feat which seems scientifically impossible.
Now, I've never thought Santa really operates within the realms of science - I mean, he's an immortal guy who lives in the North Pole with a team of Elves for goodness sake - but now astronomer and astrophysicist Linda Harden has given us some rather crazy figures to show just how epic Santa's journey would have to be.
Fact 1: How Many Children Would Santa Have to Visit?
Assuming he only visits good Christian children, the 2 billion children in the world can be reduced to a much more manageable 378 million. Using an average rate of 3.5 children per household (taken from census reports), this means Santa has to visit 91.8 million homes.
Fact 2: How Much Time Does Santa Have at Each House?
Thanks to the rotation of the Earth and changes of time zones, Santa has in fact 31 hours to distribute all the gifts to the world's children. This means he has to carry out roughly 822.6 visits per second to get around to everyone in time.
Fact 3: How Fast Would He Have to Go?
Santa's sleigh would have to travel at an unprecedented 650 miles per second, which is 3,000 times the speed of sound. Currently, the fastest man-made object ever, the Ulysses space probe, can only manage a rather sluggish 27.4 miles per second.
Fact 4: How Heavy is Santa's Sleigh?
Assuming each child gets a present weighing around 2 pounds, the sleigh would have to carry 321,300 tons, which doesn't include Santa's own rotund frame. Generally, on land, conventional reindeer can only pull around 300 pounds - but let's assume Santa's magical reindeer can pull 10 times this figure. If that is the case, we would still need 214,000 reindeer to do it. As a comparison, Santa's sleigh would weigh 4 times as much as the Queen Elizabeth - I'm talking about the ocean liner here, not the actual Head of State.
Fact 5: What Is the Effect of This Speed?
Going this fast with that much weight is going to cause some serious issues. Firstly, the enormous air resistance would mean the reindeer would heat up akin to a space shuttle reentering the Earth's atmosphere. The two front reindeer - which presumably includes Rudolf - would be subjected to 14.3 quintillion joules of energy, which means they would explode instantly with deafening sonic booms. Harden claims the entire reindeer team would be incinerated within 4.26 thousandths of a second.
Furthermore, Santa would be subjected to centrifugal forces 17,500.06 times greater than gravity, meaning he'd be pinned to the back of his sleigh by 4,315,015 pounds of force.
But is there a way?
But do not feel too disheartened, Santa believers,. Harden also includes several rebuttals to this scientific deconstruction of St Nick.
Their argument isn't exactly as numbers based at the scientific approach, but they do suggest Santa's journey doesn't have to be quite so strenuous. Here are the major points.
Rebuttal 1: Number of Households
The above scientific figures overlook a key fact - the Christian church is separated into two main sub-sections. The schism means Christianity contains the Eastern Churches, which were centered in Byzantium, and the Western Churches, which remained centered in Rome.
These two churches utilize different calendars, meaning they do not celebrate Christmas on the same day. The Eastern Churches use the Julian calendar for their religious days, meaning Christmas is actually a few days later. So, Santa really has two shots at delivering all the presents.
Rebuttal 2: Maybe There's More Than One Santa?
This second rebuttal operates on a certain level of supposition, but it does make some sense. It explains:
The name "Santa" is obviously either Spanish or Italian, two ethnic groups which are both overwhelmingly Catholic. The last name Claus suggests a joint German/Italian background. His beginnings, battling the Burgermeister Meisterburger, suggest he grew up in Bavaria (also predominantly Catholic).
If we believe this, then Santa (and Mrs. Claus) has been around for well over a hundred years, meaning they've had plenty of time to expand the Claus Clan. As the rebuttal continues:
If you think that after a hundred years of living at the North Pole with nights six months long that they remain childless, you either don't know Catholics or are unaware of the failure rate of the rhythm method. There have therefore been over five generations of Clauses, breeding like Catholics for over one hundred years. Since they are Catholic, their exponential population increase would obviously have a gain higher than the world population as a whole. There have therefore been more than enough new Santas to overcome the population increase of the world.
Of course, the above scientific explanation - with all it's massive numbers and exploding reindeer - works under the assumption that only one Santa is doing all the work. If there was a whole army of Santas, they could travel slower and carry less weight each. How many Santas would we need to achieve this? Well, that's a question for someone who's much better at math than I am.
Do you believe in Santa?