Santa Claus has a long journey ahead of him every Christmas Eve, travelling around the world delivering presents. If you want to keep track of his travels throughout the day, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) provide live updates on his whereabouts.
They began tracking him in 1955 after a Colorado Springs-based Sears Roebuck & Co. advertisement misprinted Santa’s telephone number. The phone number listed was actually for CONAD Commander-in-Chief’s operations “hotline.” The Director of Operations at the time, Colonel Harry Shoup, had his staff check the radar for indications of Santa making his way south from the North Pole and provided updates on his location for those who were trying to get in touch with him. In 1958, NORAD was created and took over the job of responding to the phone calls and emails for Santa, but now you can use the internet to follow him too.
To track his journey, NORAD start by using the North Warning System, a powerful radar system with 47 installations across North Canada and Alaska. This allows them to see when Santa takes off from the North Pole, then they can use satellites, the same satellites they use in providing air warning of possible missile launches aimed at North America, to follow his route.
The satellites are located in a geo-synchronous orbit 22,300 miles above Earth, and have infrared sensors which means they can see the heat produced by a rocket or missile launch. As Rudolph’s nose gives off an infrared signature similar to a missile launch, the satellites can track him in the air.
In 1998, NORAD began using SantaCams, high-speed digital cameras that are pre-positioned at many places around the world. The cameras are switched on about one hour before Santa enters a country on December 24, and are then switched off after images are captured of him and the Reindeer. These still images and video clips are then immediately available on the NORAD website for people around the world to see. When Santa visits Canada and the United States, NORAD fighter pilots flying CF-18, F-15, F16 or F-22 jets escort him and his Reindeer through the sky, although Santa has to slow down a bit so that they can keep up.
Although NORAD can’t predict when Santa will arrive at each house (only Santa knows his route), they have observed that, in most countries, he seems to visit everyone between 9:00 p.m. and midnight on December 24. He usually starts at the International Date Line in the Pacific Ocean and travels west, visiting 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. However, as his route can be affected by weather, it is often unpredictable.
To learn more about NORAD’s Santa tracking mission, find technical data about Santa’s sleigh and get NORAD’s contact details so that you can get your own personal updates, visit their website.