Incredible speed Santa needs to travel to deliver all his presents on Christmas Eve

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In just one short night, Santa has to deliver presents to millions of homes around the globe.

If he could travel at the speed of light, well, then his job would be a lot easier.

But, if we take a look at Einstein’s formula, E=MC², this lets us know that anything with mass simply cannot travel faster than the speed of light.

Of course, Santa has mass (maybe a little more than usual especially after all of those mince pie pit stops) and with the weight of all of those presents on top, well, it’s impossible.

Once you add all of the nine reindeers, things start getting really heavy. Travelling faster than the speed of light is certainly out of reach now.

A classic Christmas Eve scene

As pointed out by The Conversation, luckily there are still other options available to Santa that boost his chances at delivering all of the presents on time for the big day. They relate to what is known in maths as The Travelling Salesman Problem.

As detailed by this problem, the example surrounds a salesman who needs to plan a route through different cities, having to commence and end his journey in the same city and visit every other city in between just once, all while minimising the distance that he travels.

If we take this example and apply it to Santa’s journey, this is just a festive variant of the Travelling Salesman Problem.

The problem with this problem is that it is NP-Complete. Essentially, there is no known efficient algorithm that reliably returns the optimal solution in reasonable time. So much so, that some mathematicians and computer scientists believe that no such algorithm exists (this is however yet to be proved).

If someone proves that it does, or doesn’t exist, they stand a chance of winning $1 million for winning one of the famed Millennium Problems if they discover that P=NP or not.

Santa’s ideal route remains unknown
(
Per Breiehagen)

With this unsolved problem not exactly helping Santa on his quest, it becomes clear that we don’t currently know of an algorithm that would provide Santa with the best route to take. In this absence, there are however algorithms that attempt to solve this issue in reasonable time.

Route Santa from Edinburgh Napier University is one that is striving to solve this problem and crack the code. The interactive map is an example of the algorithm solving the problem.

Users are encouraged to contribute to the map and the understanding of Santa’s route by simply adding their address to its list.

The list in turn marks the home on the map and Route Santa updates to conceive the best route timing wise for Santa, updating the distance he needs to cover, as well as the speed he would need to be travelling in miles per hour. The more users that sign up, the more efficient Santa’s journey will work out to be and a better understanding we’ll have of the most efficient version of this journey.

A vintage colour illustration showing Santa delivering gifts on Christmas Eve
(
Popperfoto via Getty Images)

That said, many maths whizzes have taken the basic numbers of houses Old St Nick visits, the land mass that needs to be covered, along with the 10 hour window he has to deliver them to get a rough idea.

Science Focus came to the conclusion that Santa must need to travel at a speed of 4.7million kilometres per hour to ensure every child woke up on Christmas morning with a present under the tree.

While this is considerably slower than the speed of light it would still mean that he and all the presents would arrive a little worse for wear. Thankfully he’s magical.

So, while the speed at which Santa would have to travel is currently unknown, not to mention if it’d be physically possible, it poses a really important question because the Travelling Salesman Problem affects all of our daily lives. We’re talking about our access to food, everything that we buy and deliveries straight to our door.

If the most efficient route for Santa can be solved, then we can apply this finding to various other aspects of life, something which could revolutionise delivery services going forward.

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