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Leicester students solve age-old question: How much Christmas spirit is needed to lift Santa’s sleigh?

Students at the University of Leicester have discovered the answer to an age-old question this Christmas: just how much Christmas spirit is required to lift Santa’s sleigh?

Using equations and principles learned on their physics course, five student researchers calculated that the sleigh would need 4.51 x 1014 J of energy to raise it off the ground to the height of a typical aircraft.

The students were inspired by a scene from Christmas favourite Elf, where protagonist Buddy the Elf leads a group of well-wishers in singing ‘Santa Claus Is Coming To Town’ in order to jump start Santa’s sleigh.

In a research paper titled ‘Christmas Spirit’, published in the University’s Journal of Physics Special Topics, the group estimated Santa’s sleigh, complete with presents, to weigh at least 4.00149 x 106 metric tonnes.

Combining this figure with gravitational acceleration of the Earth and the altitude of a typical aircraft of around 11.5km, the students landed on their final figure.

By their calculations, that equates to around 71kJ of Christmas spirit from every human on the planet – or the equivalent to lighting a 15-Watt Christmas tree for about an hour and 20 minutes.

But the paper by S Shingles, D Potts, E Morton, M Capoccia and R Hodnett does conclude with a call for additional research in this area.

It reads: “It is clear to see that the energy that Christmas spirit possesses is significant and may be the source of Santa’s magical capabilities, an area perhaps for further investigation.”

The Journal of Physics Special Topics is an in-house journal from the University of Leicester which enables students to learn about the process of peer review by writing and reviewing papers by applying theoretical concepts to light-hearted ideas.

Other topics covered include ‘Rudolph the Red Shift Reindeer’ – a calculation of how fast Rudolph would have to travel for his nose to appear red – while another group examined the volume of supplemental oxygen that Jack would need to climb and descend the beanstalk in pantomime favourite Jack and the Beanstalk.

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