Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. And he's about to be under high-tech surveillance.
It's only a few weeks until Santa Claus comes to town, and for years the North American Aerospace Defense Command has been helping anxious kids and curious adults track jolly St. Nick as he delivers presents to all the good boys and girls of the world.
Today, the NORAD Tracks Santa site is finally up and running for 2011 - and it sports a countdown to when the tracking begins, which is of course December 24th.
NORAD has been helping families track the whereabouts of Santa for years, using a multi-faceted approach. First, they use the NORAD radar system called the "North Warning System." This is what they use to find out the precise moment Santa leaves the North Pole.
Once he takes off, the use satellites "positioned in geo-synchronous orbit at 22,300 miles from the Earth’s surface [that] are equipped with infrared sensors, which enable them to detect heat." If you haven't guessed, Rudolph's nose helps make this method particularly useful.
Next come the Santa cams, which are high-tech digital cameras that are positioned all over the world and only used once a year, for this precise purpose. Lastly, Canadian fighter jets intercept Santa as he is making his way south, and American NORAD pilots fly alongside Santa as he enters the U.S.
Of course, all of this is available for viewing using Google Earth. The actual 3D Santa tracking will be available on the NORAD Tracks Santa site starting Christmas Eve. You can also track Santa's movements on the @NoradSanta Twitter account. Here's an example of the types of updates you can expect there:
#Santa just zoomed through Eugene, Medford, and now Ashland, Oregon. Did anyone catch a glimpse of him?Only a few hrs to go!
While you wait for the tracking to commence, the Santa Tracker site is offering the "Countdown Village," which will reveal a new "fun activity" each day until the 24th. Today's activity is a Christmas tree lights puzzle game.
Also, while you wait, check out this video from the 2010 Santa tracking experience:
Have you been naughty or nice so far this year? Let us know in the comments.