The Science of Santa: NASA, in preparing for travel to Mars, would do well to study old Saint Nick and his sleigh borne by nine reindeer.

Author:Gugliucci, Nicole

SCIENCE HAS UNLOCKED the secrets of some of the magic performed by Santa Claus in delivering Christmas presents to children all over the world. In researching "the physics of Santa," several members of the global scientific community have addressed the speed, thermodynamics, and other scientific characteristics of a sleigh borne by eight reindeer (nine when Rudolf comes along on foggy nights).

However, that science has yet to tackle several basic questions that are equally critical elements of Santa's nighttime flight: How can he carry presents for nearly 2,000,000,000 children? How much energy is needed for a whirlwind trip around the globe? What fortifies the reindeer during their travel? How does Santa attend to his own biological needs in that extraordinarily busy delivery period? Applying strict scientific discipline, I posit data-based theories to rationalize a response to each of these.

Black holes may explain old Saint Nick's likely secret to conveying all of those presents in just one sleigh, as they are the most tightly packed objects in the universe. In fact these masses are so densely packed that nothing escapes their gravitational pull once an object gets too close. The size of a black hole is dependent only on the mass and some fundamental constants, calculated by the Schwarzschild radius, the distance from a black hole's center--where nothing, not even light, can escape.

Now, if Santa delivers five pounds worth of presents per child to the 1,900,000,000 children around the world, that is 9,500,000,000 pounds, which sounds like a lot, but it would be infinitesimally small in a black hole. For example, a black hole with the mass of our sun would be 3.8 miles across, but a black hole with the mass of 9.500,000,000 pounds of presents would be extremely tiny, one ten-millionth the width of an atom.

I do concede an as-yet unexplained problem with this hypothesis: according to current physical theories, nothing that goes into a black hole can ever come out, and one piece of matter in the black hole is indistinguishable from another. That does not sound like a great way to get your gifts.

Meanwhile, the energy required for moving presents around the world translates to 750,000,000 calories. Calories are a measure of the energy needed to raise the temperature of one gram of water through 1 [degrees]C. Continuing with my premise that Santa delivers 9,500,-000,000 pounds of presents, I employ the equation for kinetic energy--the energy...

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