The Science Behind Rudolph's Red Nose

First Posted: Dec 22, 2015 12:28 AM EST

Have you ever wondered how Rudolph's nose helps get him around the world on Christmas Eve?

A new study published in the journal Frontiers for Young Minds examines the optical benefits of his shiny red nose on the foggy holiday night.

Researchers examined previous research from other scientists on the unique eyes and vision of Arctic reindeer, scientifically called Rangifer tarandus tarandus--looking at how Santa and his team of eight reindeer manage the weather as they fly around the world.

The reindeer can see ultraviolet light, even though it's invisible to humans and most mammals. Though rare, this trait is particularly helpful when the sun is low on the horizon in the winter.

What's also so special about these reindeer is that they hold reflective tissue in their eyes that changes from a rich golden color during the summer months to a deep blue color during the winter months. This tissue (which causes eye shine at night) helps nocturnal animals see in the dark, and a blue one is expected to improve their ability to see blue light. Yet, fog extinguishes blue light more readily than red light, which may make it especially difficult for Santa's reindeer to see blue effectively, never mind fly.

Yet, Rudolph's luminescent, glowing nose helps serve as a great light for navigating for fellow reindeer and to guide Santa's sleigh. Furthermore, the light emitted from his nose is the maximum level of redness that mammals can see, which may explain why Rudolph's nose helps him see through fog light.

One things humans can do to help make sure Rudolph has a safe flight is supply the reindeer with adequate nutrition. His nose is extremely vascular, which may result in a loss of body heat through the nose. A glowing nose can cause excessive heat to be lost, putting him at risk of hypothermia. "It is therefore imperative for children to provide high-calorie foods to help Rudolph replenish his energetic reserves on Christmas Eve," said study author Nathaniel J. Dominy and Professor of Anthropology at Dartmouth, in a news release

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