For generations, this has been the time of year when children ponder one of Yuletide’s most enduring mysteries: How exactly does Santa manage to deliver gifts to the world’s children in just one night?
This year, one of Scotland’s top astronomers has applied science to the enduring Christmas Eve enigma, although at the basic level a fast sleigh and reliable reindeer are a good starting point.
Professor John Brown, tenth Astronomer Royal for Scotland, suggested that Santa might benefit from a working knowledge of astrophysics.
He said that quantum mechanics and the theory of relativity distorted space time, enabling Santa to travel vast distances very quickly – think light speed in Star Wars, or “the jump to hyperspace”, as Han Solo was fond of calling it.
Prof Brown, regius professor of astronomy at Glasgow University, has applied astronomical theories to popular Christmas traditions. In doing so, he said science gave clues to how Santa and the crew got round the entire solar system in a single night.
“Time travel is discussed in scientific circles and it seems that there are effects in relativity, quantum physics and black hole gravitation theory which may make it possible,” he said.
“The theory of relativity and quantum mechanics both have curious implications and definitely distort space and time.
“Relativity says that length is relative, so in terms of asking how Santa covers Earth in a night, the answer may be that if he could travel near the speed of light he could achieve this, though he would need a huge source of energy – almost all the energy everyone uses on the planet in a year.
“Another quantum mechanical idea – quantum teleportation – might involve deconstructing Santa’s team and beaming their parts faster than light, to be reconstructed in the next chimney, and so on.
“Finally, if Santa carried a black hole, that might help. If you could squash his team small enough, super light speed travel to elsewhere through a black hole worm hole and reassemble them there, he could teleport our Christmas presents around very fast.”
“The trouble with this idea is that we’re quite big things, and to pass us through a worm hole is not easy. Such a trip is likely to, using the technical term, ‘spaghettify’ us.”
Prof Brown added: “While I’m still a bit sceptical, I keep an open mind and wouldn’t say 100 per cent ‘No’ to such time travel being Rudolph’s secret.”
Speaking of Rudolph, Prof Brown also cast doubt on the validity of his red nose, saying it would appear blue according to the basic rules of astronomy.
“If you listen to the words of the song Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and looked up into the sky expecting to see Rudolph rushing towards you with a red nose, you’d get a bit of a shock”, he said.
“The Doppler effect, discovered by Austrian physicist Christian Doppler in 1842, looked at how we experience the changing frequencies of a wave of sound from a moving object.
“The Doppler effect on light is also used in astronomy, such as to find the speed at which stars and galaxies are coming towards or away from the Earth. A light rushing towards you looks bluer than when it rushes away from you and looks red. So Rudolph is actually a blue-nosed reindeer.”
But it seems all the astronomical jargon has failed to even scratch the surface of another age-old mystery that continues to remain elusive: How does the big lad in the red coat possibly squeeze down your chimney?
In the absence of a scientific explanation, we are going to have to assume that it’s magic. And with that, a merry Christmas from all of us at the Dust!