Santa Claus is a spiritual, beloved figure for folks of all ages. Also called Nikolaos of Myra, he was a historic Fourth Century saint and Greek Bishop of Myra (Demre, part of modern-day Turkey) in Lycia.
Because of the many miracles attributed to his intercession, he is also known as Nikolaos the Wonderworker. He had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him, and thus became the model for Santa Claus.
Every Christmas, the North American Air Defense Command NORAD posts an animation on their website, in which the exact flight path of Santa Claus’ sled led by reindeer Rudolf is precisely located. (Find the route here.)
The path of navigation satellites, however, has to be determined much more accurately than Santa’s flight path, when precise ground positioning is required. GPS is the best known system of this kind – the European system Galileo is planned to be decidedly more accurate.
On 10 December, seven weeks after the start of the first two Galileo navigation satellites, scientists at the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences received the first signals from one of the two satellites (GSAT101). Four days later, the signals could be successfully recorded on a second frequency with a worldwide network of 18 ground stations of the European Space Agency (ESA).
By analyzing these first observational data, the GFZ scientists were able to determine the orbit of the satellites, which are flying at an altitude of 23222 km, for the first time to a few decimeters. Besides the calculations of the highly accurate atomic clocks on board, this is a significant factor for the overall performance of the system and the satellites.
The independent examination of the satellite orbit parameters undertaken at the GFZ is used for the precise determination of the orbit. This is ultimately of great importance to the end user, e.g. motorists, since the orbit is the basis for the highly accurate location determination on the ground. Additionally, the possible linkage with the U.S. GPS would improve this positioning, because more satellites are available – an advantage for example in densely developed cities.
How does Santa deliver toys to all the girls and boys on a planet with a booming population? NORAD explains:
“Santa maintains a long list of children who have been good throughout the year. His list gets bigger each year by virtue of the world’s increasing population….As a result, Santa has had to deliver more toys in the same amount of time. If one were to assume he works in the realm of standard time, he would have to limit his stay to about two to three ten-thousandths of a second per home!
“The fact that Santa Claus is more than 16 centuries old yet does not appear to age is our biggest clue that he does not work within time as we know it. His trip may seem to take around 24 hours, but to Santa it may last days, weeks or even months in standard time. Santa would not want to rush the important job of distributing presents to children and spreading Christmas happiness to everyone, so the only logical conclusion is that Santa functions within a different time-space continuum than the rest of us do.”
So, is Santa Claus real? For many of us he’s real in our hearts and that just may be the most authentic place of all!
Sources: Helmholtz Association of German Research Centers and Eurekalert.com