Junkfood Science: “Science” works on Christmas Eve to track Santa

December 23, 2006

“Science” works on Christmas Eve to track Santa

Since it’s Christmastime, we’re taking a departure from serious topics to something fun to share with your little ones. Of course, this information will also help you have Santa’s cookies and milk ready for his arrival! :)

In 1958, Canada and the United States created a bi-national air defense command for the North American continent called the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD). Since then, NORAD has used four high-tech systems — radar, satellites, Santa Cams and jet fighter aircraft — to track Santa travels as he delivers gifts to boys and girls around the world. Hundreds of volunteers spend part of their Christmas Eve at the Santa Tracking Operations Center at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado taking calls and emails from children around the world and providing them with up-to-the-minute information on Santa’s whereabouts.

Kids can track Santa online at the NORAD website: http://www.noradsanta.org or call NORAD at 877/446-6723. The information is available in six languages.

According to NORAD, their radar system is called the North Warning System. It is especially powerful and has 47 installations across the northern border of North America, all checking closely for signs Santa Claus is leaving the North Pole on Christmas Eve.

The moment our radar tells us that Santa has lifted off, we use our second mode of detection, the same satellites that we use in providing warning of possible missile launches aimed at North America. These satellites are located in a geo-synchronous orbit (that's a cool phrase meaning that the satellite is always fixed over the same spot on the Earth) at 22,300 miles above the Earth. The satellites have infrared sensors, meaning they can detect heat. When a rocket or missile is launched, a tremendous amount of heat is produced - enough for the satellites to detect. Rudolph's nose gives off an infrared signature similar to a missile launch. The satellites can detect Rudolph's bright red nose with practically no problem. With so many years of experience, NORAD has become good at tracking aircraft entering North America, detecting worldwide missile launches and tracking the progress of Santa, thanks to Rudolph.

The third detection system we use is the Santa Cam. We began using it in 1998 - the year we put our Santa Tracking program on the Internet. NORAD Santa Cams are ultra-cool high-tech high-speed digital cameras that are pre-positioned at many places around the world. NORAD only uses these cameras once a year - Christmas Eve. The cameras capture images of Santa and the Reindeer as they make their journey around the world. We immediately download the images on to our web site for people around the world to see. Santa Cams produce both video and still images.

The fourth detection system we use is the NORAD jet fighter. Canadian NORAD fighter pilots, flying the CF-18, take off out of Newfoundland to intercept and welcome Santa to North America. Then at numerous locations in Canada other CF-18 fighter pilots escort Santa. While in the United States, American NORAD fighter pilots in either the F-15 or F-16 get the thrill of flying with Santa and the famous Reindeer Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen and Rudolph. About a dozen NORAD fighters in Canada and the United States are equipped with Santa Cams.

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