Track Santa at the speed of light

By Meghan Fuller Hanna

Posted by Meghan Fuller Hanna

In the words of that wonderful 1897 editorial from the New York Sun, "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus." And now you can track him in real time as he makes his way around the globe.

For the 50th year, the North American Aerospace and Defense Command (NORAD), the bi-national U.S. and Canadian military organization responsible for the aerospace defense of both countries, will be tracking Santa Claus' Christmas Eve flight.

Personnel at the NORAD Tracks Santa (NTS) operations center, which is located at the Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado, say they will use fighter jets, satellites, radar systems, and Qwest Communications' high-speed fiber-optic network to keep a watchful eye on that jolly old elf.

"While Santa's eight tiny reindeer can move his sleigh full of toys pretty fast, Qwest's fiber-optic network moves at the speed of light, so we'll be able to stay at least one step ahead of them and quickly report their whereabouts to everyone tracking the flight," says Diana Gowen, senior vice president and general manager of Qwest Government Services.

Beginning at 6:00 a.m. EST tomorrow, children will be able to track Santa's flight and view live video feeds (captured by special Santa Cams in space, of course) via the NORAD Tracks Santa Website, which is available in English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Spanish, and Chinese.

You may also want to explore the site, which features lots of interesting information, particularly in the FAQ about Santa section. Do you know, for example, the path of Santa's flight?

According to NORAD scientists, "Santa usually starts at the International Date Line in the Pacific Ocean and travels west. Historically, Santa visits the South Pacific first, then New Zealand and Australia. After that, he shoots up to Japan, over to Asia, across to Africa, then onto Western Europe, Canada, the United States, Mexico, and Central and South America. But keep in mind, Santa's route can be affected by weather," they warn, "so it's really unpredictable. NORAD coordinates with Santa's Elf launch staff to confirm his launch time, but from that point on, Santa calls the shots."

Here's another one for you: NORAD's satellites, positioned in geo-synchronous orbit 22,300 miles from the Earth's surface, use infrared sensors to detect heat--including the infrared signature of Rudolph's red nose, allowing the satellites to detect Santa's sleigh wherever it is. And you thought Rudolph's nose was only good for guiding Santa's sleigh through the fog!

For the science nerds (and who among us isn't?), the Website even provides technical data about Santa's sleigh--the length, height, and width of which are measured in candy canes (cc) divided by lollipops (lp). You can also learn about the propulsion and the fuel, but not the emissions: That's classified.

Finally, for all of us who are just too darn excited to sleep, NORAD scientists issue the following warning: "We cannot predict where and when [Santa] will arrive at your house. But we do know from history that it appears he arrives only when children are asleep. In most countries, it seems Santa arrives between 9:00 p.m. and midnight on Christmas Eve. If children are still awake when Santa arrives, he moves on to other houses. He returns later . . . but only when the children are asleep."

Here's to a good night's sleep!

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