People around the world have long speculated about the possibility of existence of life on other planets. In the U.S., there is a history of UFO (unidentified flying object) sightings and theories about government cover-ups of alien visitations.
Photo by Stefan-Xp via Wikimedia Commons
There have been dozens of documented sightings around the U.S. since the 19th century. Most of these incidents were witnessed by multiple people including police officers, military officials and even former president Jimmy Carter. They generally describe lights in the sky that don’t look like airplanes, often in a circle or disc shape. A few incidents have caused some property damage.
Although authorities often give possible explanations, such as weather incidents, natural lights in the sky, and multiple airplanes, theories that aliens visit earth continue. Many conspiracy theorists believe that the government is aware of these alien visitations but is involved in a large cover-up to keep the public from knowing.
Roswell, New Mexico
In 1947, a flying object crash landed on a ranch in New Mexico scattering debris everywhere. On July 8th, a press release was issued by the U.S. military that they had found a “disc” that had crashed at the site. Although they came out later and said that it had actually been a weather balloon, theories abounded about a cover-up. However, the incident dropped out of the public eye for the next 30 years until some ufologists began to do research in the area in 1978.
This research - studying the site, interviewing witnesses (at this point often the children or neighbors of the original witnesses) and obtaining documents from the military through the Freedom of Information Act - led to a book, published in 1980. This book alleged that an alien spacecraft crashed at the sight and the military was in a conspiracy to cover up the facts. Over the next 14 years, several more books were published, each telling a grander story than the next. They unearthed more witnesses and claimed that alien bodies were recovered from the wreck and the military had performed autopsies on them.
In 1994, the military conducted major inquiries and released the first of two reports on the incident, the second coming in 1997. Perhaps one of the reasons the conspiracy theories abounded was that the military was indeed covering up facts about the crash. However, the omitted facts were not about aliens but top-secret nuclear test monitoring that was being done in the area.
B.D. Gildenberg wrote an article in which he called Roswell, “the world’s most famous, most exhaustively investigated, and most thoroughly debunked UFO claim.”
Area 51 is a popularly used name for a U.S. Air Force facility attached to the Edwards Air Force Base in Nevada. The site does top-secret work, and its current projects are unknown, though it seems likely that they develop experimental aircraft. Since its work is confidential, the government does not release information about what takes place there, which allows conspiracy theories to thrive. The highway that runs past it is even called the Extraterrestrial Highway.
Some of the most popular theories involve aliens. Ufologists believe that the site is used either to reverse engineer alien technology to develop new aircraft and weapons, to study the bodies of aliens, alive or dead, of which the government has possession, or for holding secret meetings with extraterrestrials who are in contact with the U.S. government. Other theories are that the site is used for research into weather control, time travel and teleportation. It is also featured in popular culture as a place where the U.S. government stores all sorts of otherworldly items.
There are a few sites where UFO enthusiasts gather that can be a fun part of a road trip around the southwest. Roswell, NM and Rachel, NV (the town near Area 51) are small and don’t have many amenities, but they are kitschy monuments to UFO-mania. Check out these resources if you’re interested in visiting: