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10 Things the Government Doesn’t Want You to Know About Area 51

The secrecy around the military base in the Nevada desert has sparked endless conspiracy about UFOs and aliens. This is what we really know.

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The warning signs at the entrance to Groom Lake, also known as Area 51.

Its very existence

As secretive as the notorious Area 51 seems now, it was even more hush-hush until a few years ago. The government refused to acknowledge it even existed for years but was forced to come clean when 1992 CIA documents mentioning the military base were declassified in 2013. It showed up in the news again recently when a Facebook event was created called, “Storm Area 51, They Can’t Stop All of Us.” Matty Roberts, 20, created the event which was scheduled for September 20, 2019, and over 2 million people responded as “going.” Two separate celebrations took place, one in Vegas and one in a desert town near Area 51, where visitors could gather and hang out before “storming” the government base. Dozens of officers were standing guard around the gates to Area 51 ready to take on the crowds that Friday morning, but only around 100 people showed up. Find out which other 10 secret U.S. government operations were finally revealed.

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LAS VEGAS - NOVEMBER 12:Boeing 737-200 of Janet airline taking of from KLAS Airport in Las Vegas, USA on November 12, 2010 Janet is a call sign used by planes transporting employees to famous AREA 51
Chris Parypa Photography/Shutterstock

Visitors take a plane from Las Vegas to get there

The unmarked so-called “Janet” planes supposedly keep their windows covered when new visitors arrive. Passengers who are allowed on the plane have the highest level of security clearance and are most likely employees of the military base, but no one knows for sure.

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Skylab and Earth Limb

NASA released an image of it, even though the CIA said not to

In 1974, astronauts accidentally took photos of Area 51, despite clear instructions not to. Cue a flurry of classified CIA memos insisting that publicizing the photo “would almost certainly provide strong stimulus for media questioning and the potential near-term revelation of the missions of the installation.” In the end, NASA got its way (the Soviet Union already had its own satellite images of Area 51), and the photo went in the Skylab collection without any public outcry.

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Close up of man use and computer iphone smartphone and using application Google Maps to destination. navigation service by Google map
one photo/Shutterstock

You can explore it on Google Maps

As big as the 1970s freak-out was, it’s actually easy to explore a birds-eye view of Area 51 now. By clicking around on Google Maps, you can spot cars, planes, and nondescript buildings. You probably won’t stumble across any government secrets, but it sure does feel like an insider view.

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Area 51 Gate
Ric LaFollette/Shutterstock

The area is massive

You probably just picture a windowless building on Area 51, but there’s more to the base—a lot more. Area 51 sits inside the Nevada Test and Training Range, which, at 4,687 square miles, is three times bigger than Rhode Island.

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Warning Restricted Area Under Surveillance Sign On Gate
Zachary Byer/Shutterstock

It wouldn’t be hard to hop the fence to the grounds

At first glance, you’d never expect Area 51 to be one of the most heavily guarded places on earth. Really all that keeps people out are a chain-link fence and signs warning against trespassing. But if you did have the guts to jump over, cameras would watch your every move, and it won’t be long until guards kick you out. And as you know, you’d have to cover a lot of land before reaching any top-secret projects.

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Unpaved road leading to Area 51, Nevada
Tristan Brynildsen/Shutterstock

A family owns private land six miles from Area 51

In 1889, the Sheahan family founded Groom Mine and settled on what’s now the Nevada Test and Training Range. In the 1950s, the Sheahans dealt with stray bullets, radioactive fallout, bomb blasts, and other dangers from military tests, but the family refused to leave and took their rights to the land to court. They don’t live there anymore, but they do still own and occasionally visit the property, which sits just six miles from the end of Area 51’s runway. If the Sheahans want to take guests, the newbies need to provide information such as Social Security number and birthdate before gaining access. Check out more secrets the CIA doesn’t want you to know.

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Sandy mud hills near area 51 in Nevada.
clayton harrison/Shutterstock

It had a nickname so officers’ wives wouldn’t get mad

An isolated, barren desert isn’t too appealing to most families, so officers who had to move their families there started calling it Paradise Lake, which sounds much more pleasant.

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Warning Restricted Area
Zachary Byer/Shutterstock

There’s a reason it’s number 51

Though the reason isn’t too exciting. The land area was split into a grid on maps, and the location of Area 51 corresponded with block 51 on that grid. For instance, another lesser-known test site is called Area 13.

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Mystery area 51 which UFO ever crashed
Zhi Yang/Shutterstock

Area 51 got its alien reputation from real events

When a Nevada ranch supervisor found a strange shiny object on the ground in 1947, news reports called it a flying saucer. Military officials insisted it was just a weather balloon, but almost 50 years later, a report revealed the truth: The “UFO” was a balloon, but for measuring Soviet Union atomic blasts from far away. More than half of the supposed UFO sightings from the early 1950s and the 1960s were tests for military aircraft. Only time will tell if far-out alien claims will turn out like these 12 conspiracy theories that actually turned out to be true.

Marissa Laliberte
Marissa Laliberte-Simonian is a London-based associate editor with the global promotions team at WebMD’s Medscape.com and was previously a staff writer for Reader's Digest. Her work has also appeared in Business Insider, Parents magazine, CreakyJoints, and the Baltimore Sun. You can find her on Instagram @marissasimonian.