Santa Claus. The mystic god of present giving. How can this one man supply presents to the entire world? There has been much debate from scholars and academics alike about the plausibility of his existence. Some even say he may not exist. It is time for us to investigate the engineering and science around Santa, and try to separate facts from fiction this Christmas.

Distance Travelled on Christmas

It is hard to quantify the number of households Santa has to visit on Christmas, or indeed the distance he has to travel. To get a good estimate, we need to make some assumptions. First, let’s calculate the number of kids Santa has to visit. Let’s assume a standard family consists of two parents, two grandparents and 3 children, coming to 7 in total. Then let’s assume Santa only gives gifts to children (because us adults are too old to believe in Santa apparently…). From the Earth’s population of 7.4 billion, divided by the average family size of 7, gives us 1.06 billion households. Now let’s assume Santa only visits Christian households and 50% of non-religious households (Christmas has always been a mid-winter pagan festival after all). According to Wikipedia, 31.5% of the Earth’s population is Christian, whilst 15.35% is non-religious. Therefore 1.06 billion x 31.5% x 15.35%/2 = 256 million households.

Now we need to quantify the distance this equates to. Let’s assume the planet surface area equals to 510 million km². 510/256 gives us 1 house per every 2km², giving us an average 1.41km between houses. 1.41 x number of houses (256 million) gives us 360 million km for Santa to travel. If Santa is smart he will have 32 hours to work with over one night. Assuming he does not stop all night, he will need to travel 11,280,000 km/hr or 3,100,000 m/s. It is less than the speed of light (300 million m/s) so it is physically possible, but still a tall order.

Sleigh Weight and Energy Required

To quantify the energy required to travel this speed, we also need to enumerate the weight of the sleigh. 256 million households with an average of 3 kids mean Santa will need to carry 768 million gifts. In times gone these gifts may have been toy cars, doll houses or games. But times have changed; let’s assume that he is getting every child a PS4. An average PS4 weighs 2.18 kg, that means the total gift weight of the sleigh will be 1.674 billion kg. We also have to consider the weight of fuel and the weight of the sleigh structure to handle the goods weight, so let’s multiply this number by 4 as a conservative estimate of the total weight of the sleigh. That comes to 6.7 billion kg. This is, of course, neglecting the relativistic increase in mass caused by the incredibly high speeds.

To calculate the energy required, we must calculate ‘work done’. This is equal to force x distance travelled. Force is mass x acceleration. Let’s assume the acceleration is 1% of the total speed, giving an acceleration of 31,000 m/s². Force therefore equals to 6.7 billion kg x 31000 m/s² = 21×10¹³N. This multiplied by distance travelled in meters gives 750 x10²³ J of energy. To put that in perspective, the sun emits 3800×10²³ J of energy in one hour.


© rawpixel

Is This Possible?

So, by now you’ve probably worked out the energy and structure required for this journey is quite astronomical. Personally, I’m not sure reindeer power will cut it (how much horsepower does a reindeer produce anyway?). We, therefore, have to look for other options as to how the engine works. Rocket propulsion is out of the question, with that amount of emissions the Earth would be a molten ball of lava about now. Perhaps nuclear fusion, the ability to create and harness the power of Sun may provide the limitless energy required. For this, we can infer Santa’s elves are the greatest R&D team in the universe. Alternatively, they could have produced an engine to warp space-time. This could make up for everything. For us, time would stop on Christmas Eve, allowing Santa and his helpers an eternity to deliver presents.

This leads to two conclusions. Either Santa Clause doesn’t exist and we are being systematically lied to, or he is a hyper-intelligent alien. This could explain a lot, UFO sightings, abduction reports (probably elves trying to find out what people want for Christmas). I will let you come to your own conclusions (#thetruthisoutthere).

What do you think about it? Share in the comments below!

Featured image: © Bella67