Since 1998, scientists at the Energy Department's Los Alamos National Laboratory have been using the latest in satellite and radar technology to track Rudolph’s red nose, and in doing so, Santa, as he cruises the globe on December 24th. Thanks to their expert work, we can follow his journey live starting at 6AM EST on Christmas Eve.
Last December, I had the pleasure of talking with the program's lead researcher, Diane Roussel-Dupre. She explained in detail how the lab uses advanced optical cameras and radar receivers on the FORTE and Cibola Flight Experiment space satellites to monitor the breathtakingly-fast gift-giving team and talked openly about Mrs. Claus’ appreciation that the lab can help assure Santa and the reindeers safe travels throughout the night.
Question: I can hardly believe it's been a whole year since we first met. How do you keep yourself busy during the rest of the year?
Diane Roussel-Dupre: I work on several different projects, but one that relates to Santa Tracking is working on the Los Alamos National Laboratory space situational awareness team. We are trying to find ways to keep Santa safe from space debris during his around-the-world adventures.
Q: How did everything go last year? Any surprises or lessons learned?
DRD: Last year went pretty smoothly, though Santa did give us the slip for a few minutes when he used a cloaking device to stop and visit some of our armed forces troops in hospitals in the Middle East. He also evaded us to visit several children's hospitals in Europe, deviating from his original flight path. Just prior to that disappearance, we discovered that his sled and his reindeers' reins emit very faint electrostatic discharge -- like very weak lightning, the signature of which we can now track.
Q: Are there any changes to the technology this year? Have there been any scientific advances you'll be able to utilize?
DRD: Well, the Cibola Flight Experiment payload can be reconfigured once on orbit. So this year, we put up a new, more sensitive detection algorithm to help track Santa when he is on the ground in snow storms. We think we will also be able to better see the static discharge from the reindeer reins and on the sled.
Q: Do you ever do an after-action review with Santa himself? Any tips we can use? Recommendations for what types of cookies he likes best?
DRD: No, Santa is way too tired to do any after-action review, so we choose not to disturb his rest. With regards to cookies, I believe that Santa really enjoys the wide variety of cookies that the kids put out for him around the world. However, I am sure that in New Mexico, he really enjoys the biscochitos, a regional favorite during the holidays.