Physics & Astronomy students crack mystery of Rudolph’s red nose

Of all Santa Claus’ reindeer, Rudolph is best known for his bright red nose. But just how fast would he need to travel for his nose to shine its famous scarlet colour? Our Physics and Astronomy students have published their findings in our Journal of Special Topics.

As part of their physics degrees, five Leicester students calculated that Rudolph would have to travel at 0.153c – just over 15% the speed of light, or about 165 million kilometres per hour – for his usually brown nose to appear red to an observer due to red shift.

Red shift is a key astronomical concept, where the wavelength of light is stretched due to the speed and direction of its source relative to an observer and the colour of reflected light may be ‘shifted’ towards the red end of the electromagnetic spectrum.

The research paper goes on to say that, at this speed, Santa would have an extra 22 minutes to deliver presents to the children on his ‘Nice List’ due to the concept of time dilation.

And the same student researchers noted that Santa’s original green coat would actually be shifted to appear orange at this speed, whereas a swift 0.271c – or 292 million kilometres per hour – would be required for his coat to appear red.

The paper by D Potts, E Morton, S Shingles, M Capoccia and R Hodnett was published in the University’s Journal of Physics Special Topics, an in-house journal 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 a study of the amount of energy produced by Christmas spirit required to lift Santa’s sleigh, 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.

From all in the Physics Community Team, we wish you a very happy Christmas 2020!

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