North Pole — Here’s how we think a typical maintenance engineer thinks about Christmas and Santa Claus. Let’s hope no parents — engineer or otherwise — tells this story to their children on Christmas Eve.
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 about 15% of the total, or 378 million.
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 on to 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 0.7 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 (2 lb), the sleigh is carrying over 500,000 tons, not counting Santa himself. On land, a conventional reindeer can pull no more than 300 lb.
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).
A total of roughly 600,000 tons travelling 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 absorb 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 vapourized within 4.26 thousandths of a second, or right about the time Santa reached the fifth house on his trip.
Not that it matters, however, since Santa, as a result of accelerating from a dead stop to 650 miles per second in 0.001 seconds, would be subjected to acceleration forces of 17,000 g’s. A 250-lb Santa would be pinned to the back of the sleigh by 4,315,015 lb 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 gone now.