"Jupiter doesn't have a solid surface, so any future colonies will probably be suspended in the clouds. Jupiter's atmosphere is made of hydrogen, helium, methane, and ammonia. It's pretty toxic but not nearly as bad as Venus's atmosphere. We'll need special protective suits for both planets, which is bad news because the reindeer hate wearing clothes!"
"In fact, I'm looking forward to Christmases on Jupiter every 12 years. I think I'll turn Europa, the third largest moon, into a branch office. It's entirely covered with ice, just like the North Pole here on Earth, so the elves would feel right at home."
Santa paused again to initial some requisitions for spare parts for the sled.
"You know, it's a shame that Saturn is so far away," he went on wistfully. "What a lovely planet.... I'd love to cruise around those rings in my sleigh. But it's 9.5 times farther from the sun than Earth. It'll be a while before we have colonies out there," he opined. "Uranus and Neptune are just the same. Pretty planets, nice gas giants, but very far away. Uranus, the closest of the two, is 19 times the distance of Earth from the sun. Do you realize it'll take almost 7 hours for me to radio a message back home from Uranus? I always send Mrs. Claus a message to start warming up the hot cocoa, just before I head back to the North Pole. Why, I'll be home before the message arrives!" he exclaimed, suggesting to our amazement that he can travel faster than light. Before we could pursue this stunning revelation, the Jolly Old Elf's face brightened, and he continued on:
"Pluto... now that's the one that really interests me. It's the most distant planet by far, 39 times farther from the Sun than Earth. It takes 247 Earth years to go around the Sun just once. Think of it -- only one Christmas every 247 years! Plenty of time to retool between holidays. And the Plutonian day lasts six Earth days and 18 hours. I could really take my time delivering gifts. Not that it would take long anyway. Pluto's the tiniest planet in the solar system."
"Pluto's got real possibilities," he warmed to his theme. "I say we've got to hurry up with planetary exploration. Mars tomorrow, then Jupiter and onward to Pluto! Once we get to Pluto, I might just set up shop there and the human race can keep my calendar. Christmas once every 247 years. That might make things a bit easier - I'm not as young as I once was...." Santa looked thoughtful.
Christmas only once every 247 years? Was Santa serious? Suddenly an impish smile crossed his face. "Now how many children would stand for Christmas once every 247 years?" he asked with a twinkle in his eye. "I suppose we'll just have to keep doing it once a year as always."
Just then Mrs. Claus quietly appeared from the kitchen and thrust a bag of cookies into our hands.
"You really must go, dears," she said. "He has a long night ahead of him, after all." We went to the front door and bade our farewells. The stars shone brightly in the clear Arctic sky. As we turned to our dog sleds to begin our journey home, we heard Santa's voice boom from within: "Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!"