Norad Online Santa Tracker- BOOKMARK THIS!!!
Click the "Norad Santa Tracker on YouTube" link at the very bottom of this rec for videos of the tracker in action. If you don't know about this site, GO BOOKMARK IT NOW! Even if you don't have kids. Chances are, you will cross paths with your nieces and nephews over the holiday season.... Heck, this is amazing even for grown-ups. The site won't go live for a few weeks so put it somewhere in your Bookmarks now for later. What is it? The most incredible thing to happen to Christmas since Santa himself, courtesy of the very real US/Canada alliance, NORAD. It's run by the military. The main event kicks off on Christmas Eve. Basically, it's a live webcam INSIDE SANTA'S sleigh that is paired up with Google Earth (it refreshes every five minutes) and let's you see EXACTLY where the Big Guy is at, how long until he gets to YOUR house (you can even zoom in on your own house!) and aerial views as he flies through the sky- ie you actually see his sleigh do a loop around the Eiffel Tower, zoom past the Tower of London, etc. It is, frankly, incredible. I discovered this three years ago. Each year's version is more sophisticated than the last but they all have been the major part of my kids' Christmas Eves. The anticipation and interaction it delivers is something I could never replicate any other way. I literally stop people on the street with kids each year and tell them about this (while slipping my hand into their pockets and taking their wallets.... ah, just kidding.) One tip: Download Google Earth (it's free) ahead of time and install it on your computer. Here are some blurbs from other sources and a history of the whole thing: _________________________ NORAD details its tracking system: 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. ____________________________ History: In 1955, a Colorado Springs-based Sears store ran an advertisement encouraging children to call Santa Claus on a special telephone hotline. Due to a printing error, the phone number that was printed was the hotline for the Director of Operations at the Continental Air Defense (CONAD). Colonel Harry Shoup took the first Santa call on Christmas Eve of 1955 from a six-year old boy who began reciting his Christmas list. Shoup didn't find the call funny, but after asking the mother of the second caller what was happening, then realizing the mistake that occurred, he instructed his staff to give Santa's position to any child who called in.[dead link] [dead link]  Three years later, the governments of the United States and Canada combined their national domestic air defenses into the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), but the tradition continued. Now major media outlets as well as children call in to inquire on Santa's location. NORAD relies on volunteers to help make Santa tracking possible. Many employees at Cheyenne Mountain and Peterson Air Force Base spend part of their Christmas Eve with their families and friends at NORAD's Santa Tracking Operations Center in order to answer phones and provide Santa updates to thousands of callers[dead link] . About 800 service members and their families volunteer, and shift run from 2 a.m. MST December 24 to 2 a.m. Christmas morning. In 1997, Canadian Major Jamie Robertson took over the program and expanded it to the Web where corporation-donated services have given the tradition global accessibility. In 2004, NORAD received more than 35,000 e-mails, 55,000 calls and 912 million hits on the Santa-tracking website from 181 countries. In 2005, more than 500 volunteers answered questions.[dead link] In 2006 half a million calls and over 12,500 e-mails were handled from 210 territories. The site now gets well over 1 billion hits. The fictional background storyline has changed with the world political situation: during the Cold War when the tracking team provided updates via radio announcements, only North America was mentioned and Santa's approach was described in tense terms with interceptor aircraft scrambled to shoot down the "bogie." Only at the last minute would the pilot realize who he was engaging. Now the Web shows that as Santa approaches Newfoundland, a flight of Canadian Air Force fighters (CF-18 Hornets as of 2006) rendezvous with him to provide an honor guard and ensure that he has no difficulty with the various Air Defense Identification Zones (ADIZ) he must enter. In 2005 holiday season marked the fiftieth anniversary of NORAD's annual tracking of Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. The following year, NORAD Tracks Santa began using Microsoft Virtual Earth-style maps that instantly provide Santa's current location. In 2007, NORAD Tracks Santa used Google Earth to track Santa Claus in 3-D. They displayed Santa's location at 5 minute updates. _______________________________ Every year in December, the United States Northern Command (NORAD) is given a mission-critical assignment: provide aerial escort for and track the movements of Santa Claus. Last year, NORAD provided a Santa Tracker KMZ file that could be loaded into Google Earth and auto-refreshed every few minutes. The Santa Tracker makes use of the KML programming capabilities of Google Earth to mark his whereabouts with gift-wrapped icons and a 3D sleigh pulled by 9 reindeer. _____________________________ The NORAD site goes live with tracking Christmas Eve but you can monitor the activity at the North Pole as Santa and his helpers get ready for the big night. There's an interactive tour you can take, checking out the workshop and all the preparations. Then, Google has some free Internet tools you'll want to download ahead of time, like the Google Earth application, which, combined with its mapping and satellite imaging will let you virtually zoom in on your house with a Santa-eye view that takes you right to the chimney.