Unwrapping the Science of Santa's Mystical Journey
Technological advances at North Pole get the job done, one expert says
SUNDAY, Dec. 24, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- It's a question that has puzzled kids and grown-ups for centuries: How does Santa Claus get all those gifts to millions of homes worldwide in just one night?
In St. Louis, four-year-old Kaelyn this week suggested Santa "wraps presents ahead of time," which certainly must help.
Standing near her at a recent performance of The Nutcracker, six-year-old Liam proposed a high-tech solution. "He has a gadget on his sleigh that makes it go turbo. He can go down the chimney in one second!" he said.
Over in Hillsdale, N.J., however, five-year-old Amelia offered a simpler solution: "Maybe he has a secret shortcut."
Each of these kids may be onto something, according to Santa expert Larry Silverberg, a noted U.S. engineer and self-described "rocket scientist."
Silverberg is a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. He believes that Santa -- whom experts say moved to his underground complex at the North Pole more than 500 years ago -- has spent the last five centuries researching better ways to deliver presents at light-speed to kids everywhere.
In doing so, he and the elves have made scientific breakthroughs that the rest of humanity can only dream of, Silverberg said.
First up: Santa's uncanny ability to understand children's wishes in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
Letters to Santa are a big help, of course.
"But up at the North Pole, you also have a lot of space to construct an underground antenna that can span miles," Silverberg said. "You collect incoming electromagnetic waves and filter them, finding out which thought-waves are coming from which kids."
Sounds impossible, you say?
"Remember, we have EEG technology now to measure brain waves," Silverberg said. "And when you're talking on your wireless cell phone, there's a very complicated process whereby signals coming from around the world get to you. All that seems like magic, too. Santa's just a bit more advanced."
Of course, further filtering is done to divide children into the required naughty/nice categories, but technologies such as the polygraph lie-detector suggest that that's "probably one of the easier things to do," Silverberg said.
Once wishes are collected in his huge Arctic database, Santa checks them twice and then waits for what people call "Christmas Eve."
To most children, Christmas Eve seems like a few very long hours.
Not so for Santa, though.
"It's tough to explain, but in his 'theory of relativity,' Albert Einstein discovered that space and time are bendable," Silverberg said. While the theory is almost a century old, modern society has yet to harness relativity.
Santa did so long ago, however, and uses it each Christmas.
"What we know about physics is that, in one reference frame, distance and time look different than in another," Silverberg explained. "Time can dilate -- get much longer -- and space can contract. That's exactly what you'd need to deliver millions of gifts around the globe on one night."
Silverberg's hypothesis -- as yet unproven -- is that Santa uses his advanced knowledge to wrap his sleigh and eight reindeer in a "relativity cloud."
"So, inside the cloud a month might go by, but it would only feel like a split-second outside the cloud -- for example, in a child's bedroom," the expert said. "Santa probably also shrinks and expands the cloud, so he can enter houses through tiny openings. A chimney is one such entryway, but he might also enter through keyholes, doggy-doors, etc."
Silverberg's team at NCSU performed detailed calculations using this relativity model. "We found that in six months, a fleet of 750 sleighs could get to all of the homes on Earth, traveling an average of 84 mph in the relativity cloud," he said. "Of course, outside the cloud, all that happens on Christmas Eve."
Highly advanced onboard computers with built in GPS-like systems also plot optimal routes from Santa's central SleighPort at the North Pole out to the seven continents. "Federal Express and UPS already have similar, but more primitive, systems," Silverberg noted.
The lightning speed at which Santa arrives at, and then leaves, houses means that children will be hard-pressed to actually spot him, of course. "Sure, sometimes you hear of kids seeing him on the roof or at the Christmas tree, but that's incredibly rare," Silverberg said.
Of course, those reindeer help, too. "'St. Nick fell in love with reindeer when he first moved North, and he's been using genetic bioengineering to perfect their flying, their roof-walking and their night-vision abilities ever since," Silverberg said.
He also wanted to clear up one misconception. "I believe that Santa does not bring toys from the Pole to each home -- that's just far too bulky and inefficient," the scientist said.
Instead, the jolly gent uses sophisticated nanotechnology to build toys and other presents in a flash, right there on the family living-room floor. "It's a process of bringing atomic physics to engineering, something we're only now exploring ourselves," Silverberg said.
The end result of all this high-tech yuletide wizardry: millions of absolutely thrilled kids -- and grown-ups -- on the morning of Dec. 25.
Other experts agreed, more or less, with Silverberg's theories.
Five-year-old Ellie, of Alexandria, Va., figured that Santa is "very fast, works very hard, and has lots of elves to help him."
Back in St. Louis, three-year-old Elle didn't seem interested in all that complicated science. Her answer to the Christmas Eve riddle: "Because he's Santa."
There's more on the "science of Santa" here.