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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    A Christmas Showdown: Santa vs. Einstein

    A bout between Albert Einstein and good ol’ St. Nick was the focus of Steward Observatory Monday night, as a packed auditorium examined the question, “”Is Santa Claus guilty of breaking the laws of relativity?””

    “”(The talk) fit well for the month of December,”” said Thomas Fleming, associate astronomer and senior lecturer at Steward Observatory. “”I liked the theme. It covered some physics in the context of Santa Claus. So that made (the lecture) a bit more approachable.””

    Hosted by visiting speaker Robert Jedicke of the University of Hawaii, the talk was focused on explaining relativity and its proven yet bizarre effects, with a holiday twist, drawing a large crowd from the local community, UA and high school students.

    Jedicke opened mathematically, dissecting how far Santa would have to travel and how fast he would have to do it.

    He shared his solutions, explaining that Santa would have to travel 65 million miles at 2 million mph. But that’s just travel.

    Adding in all the other activities along Santa’s gift-giving path leaves him with only seconds to travel the 65 million miles, getting him fractions of a percent under the speed of light.

    “”And this is where things get interesting,”” Jedicke said. “”This kind of speed is what we call relativistic, or a significant fraction of the speed of light.””

    He went into explaining how things can actually go faster than the speed of light. And breaking this speed produces Cerenkov radiation, a blue glow that radiates around Santa in some of his sleigh ride portraits, Jedicke said.

    Jedicke’s attention then turned to Rudolf and his red nose, explaining how the speed of light waves has shown scientists that the universe is expanding at a faster rate, and as Rudolf gets closer to the speed of light, he will be just another reindeer with a black nose.

    Santa’s weight was the next focus, as Jedicke explained relativistic mass gain. As Santa comes close to the speed of light, energy will turn into mass, utilizing Einstein’s signature formula E=mc2.

    Jedicke’s talk came to a close as he explained time dilation, saying that all time slows down as speed increases. He used the analogy of the space traveling twins, explaining that if one twin were to travel at the speed of light, that twin will have hardly aged.

    “”So Santa Claus clearly makes use of time dilation to stay looking so young,”” Jedicke said.

    Jedicke earned laughs from the crowd, as well as applause.

    “”Relativity actually is not so bizarre. We use it every day,”” Jedicke said in closing. “”Anybody who has a GPS transponder makes use of relativity. Without it, you could not measure your position on the Earth better than (150 feet.) Reletivity is not this crazy nothing that has no significance in our life.””

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