DiBunked: The Rudolph Myth


This is the kick-off article for a column called “DiBunked” in which I debunk common misconceptions or childhood favorites! If there is something you would like me to DiBunk, email me at adifilippo18@msdacademy.org or leave a comment down below!


We all know the story of the famous Reindeer whose nose shone so bright and guided a sleigh one Christmas night, but, in scientific actuality, that story should have an entirely different ending I don’t mean to debunk your childhoods but- oh, wait. Actually, I do. Let’s get started!

First thing’s first, let’s suspend some disbelief. I won’t go into why a reindeer could not biologically have a red LED nose, but I will, for the sake of the argument, pretend it was possible. I will also pretend as if the terrestrial caribou could become flying reindeer with the power of Christmas magic, simply to isolate the argument of how Rudolph’s special nose would not save Santa on that foggy Christmas evening.

Think of two glasses, one filled with water and one filled with milk. If you point a red laser through the water, the water would glow slightly red and the laser would go right through the water. In contrast, when attempting to shoot a red laser through a glass of milk, the laser will be unable to go through. Red light through a fog would react in a combination of those two, with the nature of water droplets and an opacity like milk.  Water droplets reflect red-orange light (which is part of the reason water sometimes appears blue), meaning that Rudolph’s scarlet glow would just make it more difficult to see, as the red light would simply reflect off the thick fog formed of densely packed water droplets. This is a phenomenon called Light Scattering. Instead of clearing away the fog, it would just make the fog red and less transparent. Santa’s visibility would plummet even further.

When on the road in the fog, you might notice red lights on the back of cars around. Surely these are to help visibility and are just like Rudolph’s nose, right? Not quite. Red lights on cars are useful in foggy weather in order for other drivers to see your car, but it is not useful for the driver themself, making Rudolph’s nose a bit pointless for the singular Santa.

Considering that Rudolph is the farthest on the sleigh away from Santa, we would reason that, in order to lead the way, it would have to be a color that could be seen from the greatest distance. In daylight, green is able to be seen from the farthest distance and its opposite (within the color spectrum), red, is the hardest to see at a distance. At night, yellow is the best seen at a distance, but red retains its difficulty to see at a distance at night. Against a dark background such as a night sky or dark fog, red is exceedingly hard to see, meaning that, depending on how far away Rudolph is from Santa, it is quite possible Santa would not even be able to see Rudolph’s nose! This is the same reason most fog lights are white or yellow, as they both have the best contrast with the dark color of the fog.

In the end, however, it’s doubtful that it would even matter whether or not Santa has Rudolph, as, while parts of the world could be foggy, to have the entire world covered in fog is extremely unlikely, if not impossible. If the entire planet was covered in fog, we would have many more issues than a lack of delivery of presents!


  1. https://www.quora.com/What-colour-of-light-is-visible-from-the-furthest-distance

  2. https://journals.aps.org/pr/abstract/10.1103/PhysRev.34.140

  3. http://www.atmo.arizona.edu/students/courselinks/fall12/atmo170a1s1/coming_up/week_1/light_scattering/light_scattering_demo.html

  4. https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/reports/2006/R1694.pdf

  5. http://go.galegroup.com/ps/retrieve.do?tabID=T003&resultListType=RESULT_LIST&searchResultsType=SingleTab&searchType=AdvancedSearchForm&currentPosition=4&docId=GALE%7CA175630083&docType=Article&sort=Relevance&contentSegment=&prodId=GPS&contentSet=GALE%7CA175630083&searchId=R2&userGroupName=msda_main&inPS=true

  6. http://go.galegroup.com/ps/retrieve.do?tabID=T003&resultListType=RESULT_LIST&searchResultsType=SingleTab&searchType=AdvancedSearchForm&currentPosition=6&docId=GALE%7CA10596670&docType=Article&sort=Relevance&contentSegment=&prodId=GPS&contentSet=GALE%7CA10596670&searchId=R2&userGroupName=msda_main&inPS=true

  7. http://www.andor.com/learning-academy/scattering-of-light-an-overview-of-the-various-forms-of-light-scattering

  8. https://www.danielsternlighting.com/tech/lights/fog_lamps/fog_lamps.html

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