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Santa could warp space to make deliveries in time

The reindeer must accelerate Santa, his sleigh and all the presents up to roughly ten million km/hr. Santa could avoid obstacles thanks to gravitational waves.
Santa Claus rides in his sleigh as he prepares for Christmas in the Arctic Circle near Rovaniemi, Finland, in 2016. If it were possible to control gravitational waves, it might be possible to shorten the waves in front of Santa's sleigh and lengthen those behind it. (Pawel Kopczynski/Reuters)

When you consider the distance Santa must travel on Christmas Eve to reach the homes of all the good children in the world, he would have to travel close to the speed of light. But he may have found a way around the problem by warping the space around the sleigh.

Travelling from the North Pole all around the world in one night means that the reindeer must accelerate Santa, his sleigh and all the presents up to roughly 10 million kilometres per hour, or .97 per cent of the speed of light. At that speed, air friction from the un-aerodynamic shape of the reindeer, with their antlers and legs sticking out, plus the odd-shaped presents stacked on top of the sleigh, would produce ultra-high temperatures that would incinerate Santa and his entire transport system in a matter of seconds. He would instantly become a bright meteor in the sky.

A number of other problems with the laws of physics emerge when tackling this distance versus time issue, such as the tremendous G-forces on Santa's body every time he decelerates from near light speed to a stop on a rooftop, then accelerate back up to speed again. It is a task, by the way, that he would have to repeat millions of times in one night.

Space-time solution

But there is a way Santa could avoid these obstacles, thanks to gravitational waves. With the recent proof that these ripples in space-time actually exist, thanks to the LIGO detectors, they could provide a way for Santa to travel through space without feeling any heat from friction or G-forces on his body at all.

Gravitational waves are fluctuations in the actual space between all objects in the universe. When a wave passes by, the distance between two objects changes slightly, like two corks bobbing on the surface of a pond after a stone has been thrown in. The objects themselves are not actually moving through space; it is the space itself that is stretching and shrinking.

If it were possible to control gravitational waves the way we control electromagnetic waves, sound waves and even water waves, it might be possible to shorten the waves in front of Santa's sleigh and lengthen those behind it. In that way, the houses on his list would be closer and the North Pole would be farther away. This would happen instantly because gravitational waves travel at the speed of light. From Santa's point of view, he would not be moving at all, the scenery around him would simply change from snow to Sudbury, or wherever his destination may be.

An artist's impression of gravitational waves generated by binary neutron stars. With the recent proof that these ripples in space-time actually exist, thanks to the LIGO detectors, they could provide a way for Santa to travel. ( R. Hurt/Caltech-JPL/NASA)

Now that we have solved the mystery of space and time, there is the minor problem of how to manipulate those gravitational waves. No one has been able to do it, although in science fiction, spacecraft, such as the starship Enterprise of Star Trek fame, use matter-antimatter annihilation as an energy source to produce warp drive. There is no evidence Santa's sleigh is equipped with such devices.

But then again, there are those antlers … Could they be some kind of gravitational wave generators capable of warping space?

After all, those eight reindeer are the only members of their species that know how to fly.

Maybe they can fly through space-time as well.

Happy Holidays everyone!

About the Author

Bob McDonald is the host of CBC Radio's award-winning weekly science program, Quirks & Quarks. He is also a science commentator for CBC News Network and CBC-TV's The National. He has received 12 honorary degrees and is an Officer of the Order of Canada.