20 December 2012

The science of Santa

It's a big ask of Santa to defy the laws of physics every year to deliver presents to the world's well-behaved children. We look at the possible scientific explanations for just how he does it.
Santa Claus

Credit: iStockphoto

by Lisa Hedlund

Well it’s almost that time of year again. The time when Santa Claus loads up his sleigh and visits all the children around the world. But how does he manage this?

Lets take the world’s approximate population (7,021,836,029 according to Index Mundi). Even if we assume Santa only visits children until they reach 14 and that he only visits children who are Christian, non-religious and atheist, that still means he has to visit 827,525,483 children (with rounding) in only one night – even if it’s only to leave them a lump of coal if they’re on the naughty list.

According to some calculations, even with the 31 hours he has to work with thanks to time zones, he still has to travel more than 120 million kilometres all in one night. It’s hard to imagine anyone could move this fast and not disintegrate into flames from the air resistance, even with magic reindeer.

Scientists, such as John Brown, the tenth Astronomer Royal for Scotland, however, think they may have worked out how Santa could manage such a feat. Brown has suggested Santa might not solely rely on his flying reindeer, which surely couldn’t move quickly enough to get him all around the globe before the sun rises.

Instead, he could be using portable black holes to create wormholes in order to shorten the long journey.

Assuming Santa Claus has found a way to remain uncrushed from the strong gravitational pull, one benefit from Santa travelling by black holes, aside from being a much-needed short cut, is that it has been theorised that black holes distort time. This means that Santa wouldn’t have to rush all night to deliver presents and the occasional lump of coal to each child. Instead, he can manipulate space and time and reuse it over and over until he has completed his night’s work, which is helpfully tracked by the North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD) every year for people to see.

But even sorting out exactly how Santa can travel around the world in a single night, how can he possibly transport all those gifts – and carry them all in a sack, no less?

By using nanotechnology, of course.

While currently in its early stages, nanotechnology could allow us to build anything atom by atom. Santa, it seems, has already beaten us to the end result. If we accept that Santa’s ‘magic’ sack isn’t there to carry toys, but instead acts as a sort of factory that builds any toy Santa requires at an atomic level, this means he can make any toy he wants right then and there out of anything: chimney soot, candy cane particles, even out of the atoms in the air! Now we can see how Santa can bring every child what they want for Christmas, even large or heavy items like bikes and surfboards that would normally be difficult to fit through a chimney.

As for why nobody has managed to see Saint Nicholas despite so many children staying up past their bedtimes with hopes of catching him in the act? Easy. He wears an invisibility cloak, which works by using metamaterials that are capable of manipulating which path light travels on, so they go around the object in question, making it look like nothing is there. Using this, Santa could walk right past any child trying to sneak a glimpse of him and they wouldn’t see a thing.

So, between the black holes, the nanotechnology and the invisibility cloak, it seems as though Santa Claus can do the job after all.


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