Science of Christmas: Tracking Santa

As we get ready for Santa's visits to several of the St. Tammany Parish Library branches this December, we've been thinking about the jolly old elf's hectic travel schedule and how he manages to deliver toys to all the good boys and girls. Luckily, NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) tracks Santa on Christmas Eve as he makes his journey to deliver toys to all the good boys and girls.

NORAD has been tracking Santa since 1955 when a Sears ad inviting children to call and speak with Santa accidentally included a secret NORAD phone number only intended to be used in the case of a true national emergency. U.S. Air Force Col. Harry Shoup answered the call fearing the worst, only to hear a small voice asking to speak with Santa. As the calls continued to come in, Shoup had an airman provide the children with updates on Santa's location, and thus a favorite holiday tradition began. 

Today NORAD uses it's advanced military technologies to track Santa. The first tool is military satellite surveillance. The Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS) was designed to track heat signatures of intercontinental missiles, but in December the system picks up the infrared signature of Rudolph's red nose. 

NORAD uses its radar stations and satellites across the world to follow Santa's every move. Even naval ships get in on the action—prepared to do gift retrieval if the sleigh hits an air pocket.

The fighter jets of Operation Noble Eagle are poised to provide Santa with an escort when he enters the Western Hemisphere. However, Santa travels so fast, he has to slow down to be seen by the pilots.

Santa Cams are also situated at famous landmarks across the globe. Using special cameras that can capture motion at the speed of light, NORAD is able to capture images of Santa as he delivers toys around the world.

Information about Santa’s progress is available on NORAD’s website (which goes live on December 1), and its TwitterFacebook, Instagram, and YouTube accounts. They even have apps for Apple and Android devices!

If you'd like to explore other holiday stories and traditions, we highly recommend Caroline Kennedy's A Family Christmas.

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