(CNN) -- Area 51 has long been a topic of fascination for conspiracy theorists and paranormal enthusiasts, but newly released CIA documents officially acknowledge the site and suggest that the area served a far less remarkable purpose than many had supposed.
According to these reports, which include a map of the base's location in Nevada, Area 51 was merely a testing site for the government's U-2 and OXCART aerial surveillance programs. The U-2 program conducted surveillance around the world, including over the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
Area 51, about 125 miles northwest of Las Vegas, is synonymous in popular culture with government secrecy, and many have theorized that it holds the answer to one of the greatest questions plaguing mankind: Are we really alone in the universe?
The map and other documents were released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by Jeffrey T. Richelson, a senior fellow at the National Security Archives, in 2005.
Richelson submitted the request as part of his continuing study of aerial surveillance programs and told CNN that he was not given an explanation of why the new documents were less redacted than previous versions declassified by the agency.
He points out, however, that the location of Area 51 was not a particularly well-kept secret. Its location appears in books on aerial surveillance and is widely referenced in popular culture.
In fact, the map that was released in the CIA documents mirrors the one that appears after a simple Google Maps search for "Area 51."
Area 51 has also been referenced in government documents in the past, though this newest release is the first that acknowledges its existence and location in a purposeful way. Read more via CNN...