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An academic take on Santa

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HPC news and developments slack off a lot during the holidays. The lull often lasts well into January as we put the holiday season behind us, take down the tree, and exchange our geeky gifts for even geekier and more powerful gifts… but that won’t stop us from writing something HPC-related.

In our never-ending quest to find interesting stuff to write about, we stumbled upon “The Physics of Santa Claus”. This is a reasonably comprehensive examination of just what it would take for Santa to make his appointed rounds.

The author does a great job of laying out the task and outlining the necessary assumptions: Santa goes only to households likely to celebrate Christmas; he has 31 hours to accomplish his mission, given the rotation of the earth and crossing of time zones; no rest stops; etc. etc. The payload on the sleigh is also discussed and quantified thoroughly, and it comes in at a beefy 321,300 tons – quite a load for even the most athletic reindeer.

The author concludes that Santa’s sleigh would have to travel 650 miles per second in order to complete his rounds. This is a pretty quick pace – about 3,000 times the speed of sound – but much slower than the speed of light (186,282 miles per second). This means that his trip is theoretically possible, I guess. But, unfortunately, given the speed and gross tonnage of the sleigh, Santa and his helpers would create enough air resistance to incinerate themselves in flight. Not the sort of vignette they write carols about.

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