Area 51… creepier than you think

For this episode of Fun Friday, I’d like to point you to an article I read recently on Motherboard. It seems there is one place on earth that is more consistently ignored by Google Earth than any other. It is officially known as the Tonopah Military Test Range in Nevada. Although it’s not officially part of “Area 51” (more on that in a minute) it’s close enough to that section of Nevada that it certainly gets the same paranoia.

So many questions.

Is this really true?

As true as anything else you read on the internet, which I suppose isn’t saying much. But if you read the source article you’ll see that it was pretty well researched and seems to be grounded in fact. So I am going to stretch my neck out and say that it is most likely true. From 2008 until 2016, there were no current pictures available on Google Earth. The rest of the world seems to have been totally mapped 2-3 times in that time period.

How could they tell?

Apparently a group of Google Earth hobbyists found a way to lightly hack Google Earth Pro to show when the satellite images were taken. Their hack made it pretty easy to see that there was only one area on earth that was consistently ignored. And of course it has to be in the part of Nevada that creeps us all out because we are all, collectively, 100% sure that there’s an alien ship there.

And is it part of Area 51?

Technically it is not. The part of Nevada colloquially called “Area 51” is centered around the Groom Dry Lake and the military airport that sits on it.

This area of Nevada is essentially devoid of humans. Most of it is owned by the government. It’s generally known that the region northwest of Nevada is used for aircraft testing. There’s also a nuclear test range there. It hasn’t been active for many years. Another part of the desert is used for storing nuclear waste.

The name “Area 51” was used as part of old survey maps. Without roads or (acknowledged human) settlements, the government just split up the region into roughly equal areas and labeled them. They actually did this all the time. There’s nothing sinister about the name, and it’s come to stand for the entirety of classified facilities in southern Nevada.

The US Government did at one point deny the existence of a military facility at Groom Lake, NV and still does not allow low-altitude photographs. However, there are plenty of companies doing satellite photos that show you exactly what you want to see. There’s clearly a lot of stuff going on there.

So what’s the deal at Tonopah?

Getting back to that article, which you probably ought to read, there are no good answers. It would be a giant coincidence to think that Google just “accidentally” forgot to map an area of land that just happens to be part of a classified facility. Yet, the company claims they don’t have a policy of ignoring any area of the planet, whether 50, 51, or otherwise.

Google’s maps do sometimes show blurred out areas, and this is actually becoming more common not less. For years this was done at the request of governments. After all there have to be some concessions to national security sometimes. Today, European privacy laws allow private citizens a lot more control over the photos and records that Google keeps. As a result Google has complied with a large number of “take down requests.”

But this… this isn’t right. I mean, there’s a current photo of the area now and it looks pretty harmless, but still, you have to wonder.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.