Two competing Santa tracking devices are racing to track Father Christmas as he travels the globe tonight.
Volunteers have again been watching Santa’ progress from 5:00 a.m. EST as part of the annual NORAD Tracks Santa Programme.
The system, run by the North American Aerospace Defense Command located at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado, is in its 57th year and allows children to follow the sleigh online.
But this year it has a competitor – using its Google Earth and Google Maps products, the internet search giant is tracking Santa on its own this year with a new algorithm.
“While we’ve been tracking Santa since 2004 with Google Earth, this year a team of dedicated Google Maps engineers built a new route algorithm to chart Santa’s journey around the world on Christmas Eve,” the vice-president of Google Maps and Google Earth, Brian McClendon, wrote on the Official Google blog this week.
Meanwhile, NORAD revealed it takes hundreds of calls from those eager to know Saint Nick’s precise location and uses radar and satellite and even fighter jets to keep a track of his route.
For the past two years even the First Lady, Michelle Obama, has lent a hand answering calls from concerned children keen to keep tabs on Santa and his nine reindeer.
As the site explains: “The moment that radar indicates Santa has lifted off, we use our second detection system.
“Satellites positioned in geo-synchronous orbit at 22,300 miles from the Earth’s surface are equipped with infrared sensors, which enable them to detect heat.
“Amazingly, Rudolph’s bright red nose gives off an infrared signature, which allows our satellites to detect Rudolph and Santa.
“The third tracking system is the Santa Cam network…Santa Cams are ultra-cool, high-tech, high-speed digital cameras that are pre-positioned at many locations around the world. NORAD only uses these cameras once a year.
“The cameras capture images and videos of Santa and his reindeer as they make their journey around the world.”
By 1:00 p.m. EST the tracking site had followed Santa across Australia and Asia.
Santa was spotted passing landmarks such as the Great Wall of China and the Sydney Opera House.
He was most recently seen above the skies of Afghanistan.
Last year, Michelle Obama, said she was delighted to be part of the project.
In a statement, the First Lady said: “It is wonderful to be part of this holiday tradition. I love answering calls from children who were anxious to learn where Santa was and when he would arrive at their home.
“I passed on to each child the current location of Santa and reminded them that he would come to their house only after they were in bed sleeping.”
In 1955, a Colorado Springs newspaper advert invited children to talk to Santa on a hotline.
But the number had a typo, and dozens of children mistakenly dialed the Continental Aerospace Defense Command in Colorado Springs, the predecessor to NORAD.
The officers on duty sprang into action and began passing along reports on Santa’s progress – and the tradition was born.
More than 1500 volunteers will answer calls in shifts until 5:00 a.m. EST on Christmas morning.
Last year NORAD received more than 100,000 calls and 7,000 emails.
Google’s new Santa Tracker is live on the web at http://www.google.com/santatracker.
Santa can also be tracked online using NORAD at www.noradsanta.org, www.facebook.com/noradsanta and https://twitter.com/NoradSanta.
An app can also be downloaded to Apple, Google Android and Microsoft phones as well as Windows PCs.
NORAD has seen more than 1.5 million app downloads already this year.
Calls are taken at 877-HI-NORAD (877-446-6723) or on 1 (719) 556-5211 from Colorado Springs or overseas.
Emails can be sent to [email protected].