BIO        WRITING        PHOTO        VIDEO        CONTACT        HOME

How Santa did it
By Nathan Welton
The Tribune
December 25, 2004


Santa Claus rocketed through the County early this morning at 480 times the speed of sound, unloading presents for 42,929 children at some 20,000 homes, according to extensive Tribune research and analysis.

A similar event was reported a year ago.

It was unclear how much milk and cookies the obese elf consumed on his journey, but it is possible that he gained as much weight as he lost when jettisoning presents.

Were Santa human and equipped with man-made technology, air friction generated by his high-speed foray would have left him as a fiery ball of nothing, and the gifts he carried for this county's children alone would have weighed more than a locomotive.

Acceleration forces could have squashed him to a wad smaller than a pinhead, according to some scientists, and he would have emitted numerous sonic booms during the 7.5 seconds he was in the area.

None of this happened, however, leaving The Tribune to determine what Santa must have done to accomplish his prodigious feat.

"Santa has to go like hell, and he's not going to have a lot of time to lollygag around," said Cal Poly physics professor Richard Frankel. "The thing that will really put Santa into the hospital is if they ever establish a place on the moon. How is he going to get to the moon?"

Scientists also theorized that Santa uses a number of high-tech tools, such as a heat-dissipating sleigh, and he frequently employs his rigorous knowledge of theoretical physics.

"He uses worm holes," Frankel said, "but don't get me started on that."


The Tribune based its calculations of Santa's journey on the 2000 census, the most complete set of demographic data available.

At that time, there were about 26,000 homes with children younger than 18 in the county, but that number has grown in the last four years, rendering Santa's task more difficult.

"There's a crisis in this world," Frankel said. "Global warming? That's nothing compared to the growth going on in the exburbs. How is Santa going to get to the houses in the exburbs?"

The exburbs refer to rural areas to which urban and suburban people are moving, often in large numbers.
Although there were 26,000 eligible homes, determining the percentage that actually celebrated Christmas was critical.

"I'd think because Santa is virtually omniscient, he'd avoid visiting groups that don't wish to be visited," noted Cal Poly philosophy professor Joe Lynch. "Ostensibly Santa should only visit Christians, but I don't think he'll go by group membership."

That being the case, Lynch said it was reasonable to assume that Santa visited about 20,000 homes, preferring not to upset Jehovah's Witnesses -- who do not celebrate Christmas -- Orthodox Jews and members of other ethnic groups.
"For the exact numbers, you'll have to go to the North Pole," he said. "I'm sure they've got it figured out by now."

Using that number and the average spacing between local homes -- taking into account density variations between cities and the countryside -- The Tribune derived the distance Santa traveled in the county: approximately 3,000 miles.

Given that he had to cover millions of miles around the world within 24 hours, Santa spent less than 7.5 seconds in the County, traveling at more than 5 million mph. That's 130 times slower than the speed of light, which means the elf didn't need to stretch the boundaries of space and time.


Scientists theorize that Santa employed advanced technology to accomplish his Herculean effort overnight. According to a 1997 report by Larry Silverberg, a mechanical and aerospace engineering professor at North Carolina University, the elf used:

• A giant antenna buried in the snow around the North Pole that can detect the electromagnetic waves emanating from children's brains. With this device, he determined who had been naughty or nice;

• Jet packs on his reindeer for added propulsion;

• A relativity cloud whereby Santa, once inside, experiences space and time differently. This phenomenon of physics allows him to enter homes despite his rotund build;

• A nanotechnology device that scales tiny structures into full-sized toys; and

• Bioengineering to create reindeer with enhanced night vision.

It is also possible that Rudolf has a genetically engineered nose, but that remains unconfirmed.

Nonetheless, still more factors were necessary to make the wheels of Christmas tick, said Frankel, the first of which was advanced textile manufacturing capabilities.

"Santa is distended, and he better have clothing made of high-elasticity material," he said, referring to the amount of milk and cookies the elf consumed. "We wouldn't want Santa bursting out through his britches. You just imagine poor Santa. So be kind to Santa."

He also noted that the sleigh dissipates heat hyperefficiently to reduce the intense energy generated when objects pass through air at high speed -- such as when space ships leave the atmosphere.

"He also flies pretty high so the air is thinner, and he flies at night and in the winter when it's colder," Frankel said, referring to radiational cooling. "Why don't you think they have Christmas in June?"


The infrared signal from Rudolf's nose helped military analysts track Santa throughout North America, said Master Sgt. John Tomassi, a North American Aerospace Defense Command spokesman.

NORAD is a military compound based in a mountain in Colorado Springs that follows potential threats on radar and via satellite. Technicians there have closely scrutinized the sleigh's Christmas Eve jaunts for 50 years.

"When Santa enters Newfoundland in Canada, we escort him in with F-18s," Tomassi said. "What are you laughing at? Could you imagine if someone tried to imitate Santa and then had some sort of device on them to wreak havoc throughout North America? We wouldn't want that."

Tomassi said that in years past, Santa headed northwest through the country before eventually hopping across to Hawaii. He typically arrives between 11 p.m. and midnight.

It was not immediately clear what time Santa arrived this year. More data processing is required.

Despite the military's concerns that terrorists could pose as St. Nick, Tomassi admitted that the Air Force has never tried to arrest the elf for flying under the influence.

"Santa's on his own if he's able to complete his mission with a little extra eggnog," Tomassi said. "We don't enforce FUIs -- we'd have no way of pulling him over."