SANTA CLAUS: AN ENGINEER'S PERSPECTIVE
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 that
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 he travels 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 stockings, 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 0.78 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 thousand tons, not counting Santa himself.
On land, a conventional reindeer can pull no more than 300 pounds. Even
granting that the "flying" reindeer could pull ten 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 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 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, however, since Santa, as a result of accelerating from
a dead stop to 650 m.p.s. in .001 seconds, would be subjected to
acceleration forces of 17,500 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.