RUDOLPH is the leader of the pack, the chief executive of Santa’s Christmas crew. She is the one with the power, the speed and the knowhow to ensure that our main man, Santa, gets to the houses of all those on the nice list. But how do Rudolph and her eight teammates do it? Chris Banks from Glasgow Science Centre has some festive theories.

Santa’s reindeer team are all female, we know this because of their antlers. Unlike horns, antlers fall off and grow back every year. Males begin to grow their antlers in the springtime, and they moult in November. Females’ antlers grow a few months later than the boys, and they keep their antlers all winter. Antlers are very useful to fight off predators, dig in the snow to find food, and the men use their impressive 51 inch antlers to woo the females.

Antlers could also hold the power of flight, but before we can discuss that we need to talk about speed.

Around the world in 31 hours

Around 108 million homes around the world celebrate Christmas, which means 129.6 million kilometres of travel for our intrepid team (based on an average of 1.2km in-between each household).

They have roughly 31 hours to travel around the planet, due to differing time zones and the rotation of the Earth. Using this information, we can estimate that Rudolph has to reach a speed of about 1,161 kilometres per second! Thankfully, Dasher has enforced a strict training routine to ensure her teammates can reach these speeds.

Or could something else be behind it? Could it be that the reindeers’ antlers are subject to the Bernoulli Effect? This is when air rushes over the top of the wings on a standard jet plane: it causes the air pressure under the wing to increase, which generates lift.

This could be how reindeers take flight each December: the rush of air over their antlers perhaps creates lift and therefore flight. The aerodynamics, or antler-dynamics, could be pushing the antlers upwards and in turn pulling the reindeer, the sleigh, Santa and all those presents into the sky. They are essentially hanging in the air by their antlers! Talk about a headache….

Rudolph’s shiny nose

Rudolph also has another key feature: her gorgeous, glowing, scarlet nose. She harnesses the power of bioluminescence to illuminate the night sky and guide the sleigh. Bioluminescence is a type of chemiluminescence, which is the term we use for a chemical reaction where light is produced. Other animals use bioluminescence in different ways, for example, an angler fish will lure its prey with a glowing organ called the esca, and fireflies light up their abdomens to communicate.

All reindeer actually have glowing noses, we just can’t see them. If we were to use a thermal imaging camera, we would see that their noses give off tremendous amounts of heat that radiates from their noses’ blood vessels.

Reindeer have loads of blood vessels in their nose. These blood vessels help to warm up the very, very cold air that they breathe in while living in cold parts of the world, and when flying.

Pardon you, Prancer

To keep going on their journey around the world, the reindeer would need to keep their energy levels up by eating a lot of food. It is very important that you leave carrots and other tasty treats out for the four-legged team on Christmas eve. But eating all of that food can lead to some funny results. Reindeers like to fart, a lot! Reindeers are what is known as ruminants, meaning they have four stomachs. One of these stomachs is called the rumen, which is responsible for aiding digestion and of the production of methane. Methane is a greenhouse gas, which is very flammable and can be used to create energy. Our hypothesis is that this gas could be harnessed by the ‘Elf and Safety’ team in the North Pole and used to generate the electricity and power for the workshop. Santa’s going Green!

This year you can celebrate the festive season with Glasgow Science Centre and our online ‘Christmas Extravaganza!’. Don your best festive jumper and grab a mug of hot chocolate as we explore the science of the season. Join our elves on an exploration of their favourite things about the festive season, with a mix of wondrous workshops and science shows for the whole family to enjoy. And look out for Rudolph as well to win some Christmas treats.

Friday 11 December 2020, at 7pm, visit for more details and to book your free ticket