Episode 35: December 21, 2012
High School Science
by Lee Falin, PhD
Today I ask your leave as I break from the norm to recite a Christmas poem of science and mystery.
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'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
We were surfing the internet, by clicking our mouse;
We found lots of articles posted on there,
About the star of Christmas, St. Nick, and his reindeer;
Some scientists think the new star had gone supernova,
While others said comets must have flown over,
Some scientists believe ‘twas a conjunction most propitious,
While others claim it was simply fictitious,
As for that sleigh driver known as St. Nick,
To visit every house on earth must be quite a trick.
If we start with the houses in just the U.S.,
We can do some quick estimates and make a best guess.
There were 115 million homes on the census last year,
And in each of these houses St. Nick must appear.
If we assume that for just five minutes in and out he does hop,
That’s over 1,000 years of deliveries non-stop.
Perhaps by stopping time he can get out of his plight,
Maybe the answer is to travel at the speed of light.
Or perhaps he tunnels through space-time like a mole,
"Now, DASHER! now, DANCER! now, PRANCER and VIXEN!
On, COMET! on CUPID! on, DONNER and BLITZEN!”
We’ve heard that in winter a male’s antlers do fall,
So are those pulling the sleigh, females one and all?
While some males lose antlers in winter it’s true,
So while females likely make up most of the crew,
There are probably some young bucks mixed in with them too.
Now finally what about that Rudolph’s red nose?
Could there be science behind the way that it glows?
There are plenty of things that bioluminesce,
But a glow in the dark nose must be quite a mess.
And all of them glow through bioluminescence.
These creatures light up the night thanks to luciferase,
An enzyme that has nothing to do with the devil’s sly ways.
It oxidizes the luciferin molecule, charging it up keen,
Which then give off energy, as light that’s blue-green.
But what about red glows, do such things exist?
Can red light be found coming from bugs or from fish?
Yes! There are fish and beetles that can glow bright red,
The color depends on the structure of luciferase, it’s said.
Something that won them a Nobel prize for their show.
So maybe it’s not hard to believe in a nose that shone,
Maybe Santa’s reindeer are all engineered clones?
Could it all be true, perhaps it just might,
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.
Santa and Rudolph images from Shutterstock