Area 51 has captured the imagination of humans for generations — but good luck getting a look at it.
The United States military base is tucked in a desert valley between mountain ranges north of Las Vegas, Nevada, where stealth planes fly and rumors of aliens proliferate. The CIA acknowledged the facility, formally called Homey Airport and Groom Lake, for the first time in 2013. The closest place you can get a legal line of sight on land is Tikaboo Peak, 26 miles away.
Fortunately, thanks to satellites and the internet, you can now get tantalizingly closer. A couple YouTubers flew drones from Tikaboo in 2015, after which “no drone’” warning signs were promptly erected. (There’s also a closed circuit camera attached to a weather station, just in case you forgot that your every step is being watched by military personnel with a license to kill.)
Hans Faulkner’s viral footage has since been removed, but Dahboo77’s is still up. “The no-fly maps showed you couldn’t go to far toward the base, so I just went pretty much straight up and back down,” he tells Inverse by email.
The drone footage is exciting, but not terribly revealing — it’s hard to see much from that far away, even on the clearest day. Fortunately, Google has released a treasure trove of historical data that shows in amazing detail how Area 51 has transformed over three decades.
Feel free to play around on the interactive Google Timelapse feature directly, but here are the goods for Area 51:
The most obvious: A new major runway has been added, with adjacent new roads connecting it to the base. A keen eye will spot new buildings sprouting up, too. Clearly, Area 51 is not stuck in the past.
The 2016 satellite image is a far sight better than the one from 1984, but you can see even more detail using plain old Google Maps. At full zoom you can pick out individual vehicles and aircraft.
Don’t expect Google’s satellites to pick up any suspicious activity or top secret weapons, though — the military is fully aware of how powerful commercial and foreign government satellite technology has become, and would think twice before letting sensitive material of the hangar in the light of day. If there are aliens to be found, it would be safe to bet they’re kept well underground.