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Santa fly under the radar? No way; NORAD, Google going high-tech

The clock is ticking at the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) as it continues its annual tradition of tracking Santa Claus as he makes his way around the globe.

NORAD uses some high-tech systems to track Santa's sleigh -- radar, satellites, Santa Cams and fighter jets -- and has teamed up again this year with Google, which began tracking Santa in real time starting at 2 a.m. today. Google Maps will have all the necessary flight information, or you can tune in to a 3D feed via Google Earth. Parents with eager kids can plot out the exact right time to chill the milk and cool the cookies by using the Google Maps mobile site as well, by searching for "(santa)" on their smartphones.

You can also call NORAD for the latest news of Santa's flight. The NORAD Tracks Santa Operations Center will be open from 6 a.m. today to 5 a.m. on Sunday. Call 877-HI-NORAD (877-446-6723) toll-free. Last year, first lady Michelle Obama answered calls, so you never know who will pick up when you call the hotline.

The country has been tracking Santa's path since 1955, when a Sears Roebuck ad in Colorado Springs, Colo., misprinted their Santa hotline number. Calls poured in to the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) and its director of operations, Col. Harry Shoup, tapped into his own holiday spirit, and a tradition was born. NORAD has run the program since it replaced CONAD in 1958.

(You can find a charming audio clip of Shoup describing the first call at the official NORAD Santa website, if you're interested in the history.)

The NORAD Tracks Santa program is supported by over 1,200 Canadian and American uniformed personnel and Department of Defense workers who volunteer to field calls and emails, and by corporate contributors, such as Avaya.

According to the NORAD Tracks Santa website, radar gives NORAD the first indication that Santa has taken off from the North Pole. NORAD uses, in addition to Santa cams and a fighter jet escort, geosynchronous satellites equipped with infrared sensors that can zero in on Santa's sleigh. "Amazingly, Rudolph's bright red nose gives off an infrared signature, which allows our satellites to detect Rudolph and Santa," the site says.

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