NASA's James Webb Space Telescope won't hit Santa during Christmas launch

Santa won't be dodging any rockets while delivering gifts this year.
Santa won't be dodging any rockets while delivering gifts this year. (Image credit: Shutterstock/https://www.shutterstock.com/image-photo/noise-picchristmasmerry-christmas-happy-holidays-santa-1224995929)

NASA is launching a huge observatory into space early Christmas morning (Dec. 25), but you don't need to worry about it hitting Santa Claus.

While St. Nick is wrapping up his annual world tour, presumably somewhere in Alaska, Hawaii or the other Pacific islands in the westernmost time zones, an Ariane 5 rocket will be blasting off from South America with NASA's James Webb Space Telescope

Santa is not expected to cross paths with the Ariane 5 rocket, which is scheduled to lift off during a 32-minute window that opens at 7:20 a.m. EST (1220 GMT) on Saturday. That's 9:20 a.m. local time at the launch site: the Guiana Space Center near Kourou, French Guiana. 

Related: How the James Webb Space Telescope works in pictures
More: NASA's James Webb Space Telescope launch: Live updates 

Not only will Santa be far away from French Guiana by the time the rocket launches, having delivered gifts there several hours earlier, but his sleigh will also be flying in the opposite direction. Santa has to fly west, but the Ariane 5 will soar east, passing over Africa before it heads out into space. 

And the Webb telescope also isn't going to orbit Earth, so there's no chance that it will circle around the planet and smack into Santa's sleigh after launch. Rather, it will head straight to a gravitationally stable spot 930,000 miles (1.5 million kilometers) away from our planet, known as the Earth-sun Lagrange Point 2 (L2).

Although Santa spends most of his trek close to Earth, he has received a special launch license from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) allowing him to "take a quick trip to the International Space Station" with his "StarSleigh-1/Rudolph Rocket" on Christmas Eve (Dec. 24), the agency said in a statement (opens in new tab) on Thursday (Dec. 23). 

According to the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), which tracks his annual 24-hour trek around the globe, Kriss Kringle typically arrives on Christmas Eve between 9 p.m. and midnight local time. Astronauts at the International Space Station live on Universal Coordinated Time, so his space station delivery should arrive between the hours of 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. EST on Dec. 24. So there's no risk of Santa crashing into Webb during his special orbital delivery, either.

You can track Santa's path around the world using NORAD's Santa tracker beginning at 6 a.m. EST (1100 GMT) on Friday (Dec. 24), or watch a NORAD video of his space station delivery in 2020 above. 

Email Hanneke Weitering at hweitering@space.com or follow her on Twitter @hannekescience. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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Hanneke Weitering is an editor at Space.com with 10 years of experience in science journalism. She has previously written for Scholastic Classroom Magazines, MedPage Today and The Joint Institute for Computational Sciences at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. After studying physics at the University of Tennessee in her hometown of Knoxville, she earned her graduate degree in Science, Health and Environmental Reporting (SHERP) from New York University. Hanneke joined the Space.com team in 2016 as a staff writer and producer, covering topics including spaceflight and astronomy. She currently lives in Seattle, home of the Space Needle, with her cat and two snakes. In her spare time, Hanneke enjoys exploring the Rocky Mountains, basking in nature and looking for dark skies to gaze at the cosmos.