Follow Father Christmas around the globe this Christmas Eve with NORAD’s Santa Tracker
The North American Aerospace Defense Command is celebrating the 65th Anniversary of tracking Santa's annual yuletide journey.
Sometimes the anticipation that builds up throughout the day on Christmas Eve can be too much to bear: Where’s Santa now? When will I get my presents? Is his journey going smoothly?
Well fear not, NORAD’s Santa Tracker has got your back.
Kicking off at 11pm GMT on 23 December, website visitors can watch Santa make preparations for his flight as NORAD's Santa Cams will stream videos on the website as Santa sleighs his way to various locations. Then, anytime on 24 December trackers worldwide access the website or Android or Apple apps to see a constantly updated stream of Santa’s location. Amazon Alexa users can also ask for Santa's location through the NORAD Tracks Santa skill for Amazon Alexa.
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- The secret science behind Santa's (not so secret) little helpers
The website also features Santa's North Pole Village, which includes a holiday countdown, games, cinema, holiday music and webstore, and is available in eight languages: English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, and Chinese.
The Santa tracking tradition began in 1955 when an advert in a local newspaper informed children they could call Santa directly. However, the paper had printed the contact number incorrectly and instead of reaching Santa, the phone rang through to the crew commander on duty, U.S. Air Force Colonel Harry Shoup, at the Continental Air Defense Command Operations Center, the predecessor to NORAD.
Quickly realising what had happened, Col Shoup played along and assured the child he was Santa. He then assigned a duty officer to continue answering calls. Every year since, NORAD has reported Santa's location on 24 December to millions of children and families around the world.
To track Santa either head to the NORAD Tracks Santa website, or download the app from the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store. The service is live now so parents and children can count down the days until Santa's launch.
Q&A: How fast would Santa have to travel to visit every child in the world?
According to Arnold Pompos of Purdue University, Father Christmas would have to travel a total of 160,000,000km – further than the distance from the Earth to the Sun – to visit 800 million children in 200 million homes spread over 3x1013m2 of land around the world. He would have about 10 hours, from 8pm to 6am, to deliver the presents. Luckily, children happen to be spread across a wide range of time zones, buying Santa an additional 24 hours.
Even so, covering this distance in 34 hours is certainly no mean feat. Crunching the figures, we get a speed of 4,705,882km/h, far slower than the speed of light, but still fast enough that the air resistance is likely to vaporise Santa, along with all the children’s gifts… if he wasn’t riding a magic sleigh.
Jason is the commissioning editor for BBC Science Focus. He holds an MSc in physics and was named Section Editor of the Year by the British Society of Magazine Editors in 2019. He has been reporting on science and technology for more than a decade. During this time, he's walked the tunnels of the Large Hadron Collider, watched Stephen Hawking deliver his Reith Lecture on Black Holes and reported on everything from simulation universes to dancing cockatoos. He looks after the magazine’s and website’s news sections and makes regular appearances on the Instant Genius Podcast.