Large, round, red and white object seen flying around earth and making many landings

By Ted Bonnitt on December 24th, 2012
Large, round, red and white object seen flying around earth and making many landings
Track Santa in real time. Credit: NORAD
Track Santa in real time. Credit: NORAD

The world's most famous flying object has been spotted over earth, making frequent stops and offloading wrapped objects down chimneys in several countries.

Santa is on his way, and you can track his route in real time, courtesy of the U.S. Air Force's North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) based in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

NORAD is charged with detecting enemy missiles launched toward the United States.  It also tracks orbital debris (space junk) in low earth orbit to protect satellites, space travelers and the International Space Station from deadly impacts.  Space junk includes fragments of exploded rockets, a lost glove from America's first space walk during the Gemini 4 mission, and a camera lost by astronaut Michael Collins during the Gemini 10 flight. 

NORAD tracks over 13,000 objects larger than 4 centimeters in size, with a combined weight of about 5,500 tons.

The number objects continues to grow as the objects collide with one another, creating more fragments.

A man made debris filed encircles our planet.

With space debris traveling in excess of 22,000 miles per hour, even a paint chip could punch a quarter inch wide hole in a space station window.  Fortunately, the bulk of space junk is well above the orbit of the space station.

NORAD enjoys a break from the daily watch every Christmas, when it tracks Santa as he delivers presents around the world.

Track Santa Claus' route at NORAD.

The tradition began by accident in 1955 when the retail giant, Sears Roebuck, also based in Colorado Springs, misprinted a telephone number in an advertisement to call Santa. 

A misprint in this advertisement had kids calling NORAD's hotline.

Kids, thinking they were calling Santa, were actually dialing the Commander in Chief's operations "hotline" at NORAD's predecessor, Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD.) 

The Director of Operations at the time was Colonel Harry Shoup, who instructed his staff to check the radar for signs of Santa.  As children called, they were given updates about Santa's whereabouts.

A tradition was born. NORAD employees, their families and friends have volunteered their time ever since, answering calls and emails from kids around the world on Christmas Eve. Millions of children can now monitor Santa's movements in real time on NORAD's website.

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