Detecting Santa all starts with the NORAD radar system called the North Warning System.
This powerful radar system has 47 installations strung across the northern border
of North America. NORAD makes a point of checking the radar closely for indications
of Santa Claus 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.