Think the holiday season doesn’t fit into the realm of science? Think again! There are ways to find a science angle to just about anything, including festive seasonal traditions.
A new, tongue-in-cheek video (below) from the Auckland University of Technology (AUT) features professors Steve Pointing and Allan Blackman explaining the science behind Santa Claus. Scientific theories include the logical explanation of an anti-matter rocket propelling Santa’s sleigh; a hypothesis about a special lens that serves as a “cloaking device” that enables the jolly old elf to blend into the background like a chameleon; and a suggestion that Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’s glowing proboscis could be traced to the bioluminescence chemical luciferin.
Another Santa-centric scientific endeavor involves the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) – a joint project of the United States and Canada that provides aerospace warning, air sovereignty, and defense. Legend has it that in 1955 a misprinted phone number that offered children a chance to call Santa connected the young callers to the center's operational hotline.
In the spirit of the season, the director of operations instructed staff to check the radar for signs of a sleigh entering the air space, and the “NORAD Tracks Santa” tradition was born. According to NORAD, the project uses radar, satellites, "Santacams" and even fighter jets to track the progress of Santa’s annual flight around the world.
Not to be outdone, the United Kingdom’s National Air Traffic Service (NATS) tracks Santa’s progress through its own airspace and even issues warnings for airborne craft to watch for “One sleigh powered by eight reindeer and the addition of a possible ninth reindeer with a special red air navigation light.”
For the more adult-minded, New Scientist offers a round-up of information and advice about the holidays including the psychology behind Christmas card lists, the perils of too much partying, and how those with seasonal affective disorder might get into the holiday spirit.
Christmas isn’t the only holiday with science connections. The MIT Hillil center offers some suggestions using glow sticks and the buoyancy of oil in water to help youngsters learn about science around Hanukkah, and a YouTube video shows other easy experiments that can be done at home.
Then there are the scientific activities children can do for Kwanzaa and resources to learn about Winter Solstice, which is the shortest day in the Northern Hemisphere – and the longest in the Southern. Teacher Vision has videos and activities for grades 1 through 12 to explain the solstice, and how the tilt of the Earth’s axis causes the seasons to change.