Santa Claus, Georgia (left) and Indiana (right)
He may see us when we're sleeping, know when we're awake, and know if we've been bad or good, but thanks to new images from NASA, we can now catch a rare, behind-the-scenes glimpse of some of Santa Claus' summer estates. In new, exclusive images obtained for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., from the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (Aster) instrument on NASA's Terra satellite, two of the 11 U.S. towns that bear St. Nick's name are revealed in all their splendor. The images are available on the JPL Planetary Photojournal at:

Santa Claus, Ga., (left) and Santa Claus, Ind. (right) are typical of Santa's summer retreats, offering Santa, Ms. Claus, the reindeer and the elves the usual amenities and a toasty respite from their chilly North Pole environs during the off season. These images, obtained for Santa by NASA at the request of Rudolph, provide Santa's chief navigator with detailed, aerial maps to guide Santa's merry bunch south after their exhausting annual round-the-world tours. Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, et al., find the rural atmosphere of both towns particularly inviting.

The two towns are the only Santa Claus towns in the United States that have post offices and zip codes. Santa Claus, Ga., located in Toombs County, has a population of 237. Santa Claus, Ind., located in Spencer County, has a population of 2,041.

While it may not be able to detect the tiny hoof prints of Santa's reindeer, the Aster instrument does a remarkably jolly ol' job of imaging Earth to map and monitor the changing surface of our planet. Aster is one of five Earth-observing instruments launched in December 1999 on NASA's Terra satellite. It features 14 spectral bands from the visible to the thermal infrared wavelength region and has a high spatial resolution of 15 to 90 meters (about 50 to 300 feet). This broad spectral coverage and high spectral resolution provides scientists in numerous disciplines with critical information for surface mapping and monitoring dynamic conditions and temporal change. Example applications include monitoring glacial advances and retreats; monitoring potentially active volcanoes; identifying crop stress; determining cloud morphology and physical properties; evaluating wetlands; monitoring thermal pollution and coral reef degradation; mapping the surface temperature of soils; and measuring surface heat balance.

Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry built the Aster instrument. JPL is responsible for the American portion of the joint U.S./Japan science team that validates and calibrates the instrument and its data products.

More information about Aster is available at:

NASA's Earth Science Enterprise is a long-term research effort to understand and protect our home planet. Through the study of Earth, NASA will help to provide sound science to policy and economic decision-makers so as to better life here, while developing the technologies needed to explore the universe and search for life beyond our home planet.

The California Institute of Technology in Pasadena manages JPL for NASA.

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