UFO 101: The Roswell Incident

By: Nathan Chandler
Image: shutterstock

About This Quiz

The Roswell Incident is the most famous UFO event in the history of humankind. It spawned countless conspiracy theories and caused many people to believe that aliens are among us. How much do you know about the Roswell UFO incident?

The Roswell UFO Incident is the most famous UFO event in history. When did it occur?

The famous incident happened in 1947. It's become a cultural touchstone for people all over the world.

Roswell is now super famous. Where is Roswell, anyway?

Roswell is a dusty town in southern New Mexico. Its relatively remote location adds to its incredible allure.

How did the famous incident begin?

In 1947, a rancher found unidentifiable debris strewn about parts of a sheep pasture. He called the sheriff to try and figure out what the weird jumble of stuff might be.

What did the sheriff do once he saw the piles of strange material?

The sheriff called the local air force base. Soldiers arrived, searched the property and confiscated all of the debris -- an act that helped to trigger larger conspiracy theories.

Why did the rancher decide to contact the sheriff instead of just throwing away the debris?

The rancher's neighbors saw the debris and were wowed by the items. They told the rancher to report the incident in case it was an alien craft or a secret military project.

After the troops gathered the debris, the local base issued a press release. What did the release essentially say?

The military's press release was an outright lie. It said that the debris was simply a weather balloon, but that was not even close to the truth.

How did the public respond to the lies in the press release?

No one had any real reason to question the press release. Most locals simply accepted the government's story and then went about their lives.

True or false: The local paper ran a headline story about the debris.

Roswell's local paper did run a top story about the crash, indicating that a "flying saucer" had crashed into the ground. However, the military's press release helped douse the rumors.

True or false: The debris was clearly from a weather balloon.

The debris that the rancher found? Yeah, well, it didn't look anything like a weather balloon. The miliary's cover story eventually unraveled because even casual observers could see through the lie.

What was the actual purpose of the wrecked contraption that the rancher found?

The balloon was part of Project Mogul, an operation that used high-altitude balloons (and sophisticated technologies) to detect sound waves generated by Soviet atomic tests. The project lasted about two years.

The military's cover-up helped to bury the story for about how long?

The cover story worked. For about three decades, no one, not even hardcore UFO believers, really gave Roswell much thought. Then, things changed.

How did the incident re-emerge in the American consciousness?

A regular guy named Stanton Friedman decided to poke around the crash site and conduct a few interviews. The project began taking on a life of its own.

What is Friedman's background?

He's no uneducated crackpot. Friedman is a physicist with a natural sense of curiosity who wanted to know more about what happened at Roswell -- he couldn't have known that his initial inquiries would spark a world-famous UFO legend.

About how big was the contraption that crash-landed during the incident?

The contraption (before it was ripped to shreds) was perhaps around 700 feet long. The amount of debris, and its strange components, no doubt played a role in making the incident famous.

What's the "tropopause"?

The tropopause is a section of the atmosphere between the troposphere and the stratosphere, and it transmits sound quite well. The military's balloon was meant to pick up atomic testing sound waves that traveled through the tropopause.

True or false: Local military officials knew exactly what the debris was when they found it.

The project was highly classified espionage. Local officials actually didn't understand the nature of the debris when they collected it, a fact that made it harder for them to concoct a believable cover story.

Local military officials suspected that the debris might actually be what, exactly?

In the post-WWII era, many Americans were freaked out about the Soviets. Some local military types though the debris might actually be Soviet spy gear of some type.

Local reporters arrived at the scene of the crash. How were they treated?

The reporters wanted a look at the debris field, but soldiers turned them back. The secrecy surrounding the site eventually fueled conspiracy theories.

True or false: The rancher who found the debris was an ardent UFO believer.

Mack Brazel, lived an isolated life on a huge ranch. He wasn’t the UFO type and didn't know that other UFO sightings had recently been reported around the country.

According to Brazel, the debris did NOT contain what sort of material?

Brazel said he didn't notice any sort of metal in the debris. It was an odd jumble of rubbery material, tape and other weird junk.

What happened to the debris after the government collected it?

The troops that gathered up the materials drove them off into the sunset. Whatever happened to the wreckage, it is not public information.

In 1980, Stanton Friedman's research contributed to a book (written by Charles Berlitz and William Moore) that sparked public interest in the event. What was the name of the book?

The now-famous book is simply titled "The Roswell Incident." The book contains many dozens of witness interviews that add credibility to the UFO story.

A man named Jesse Marcel is a big part of the Roswell story. Who was he?

Marcel was a major at the local base, and he is perhaps the only person who witnessed the debris being transported from the crash site to a press conference, which many people suspect was staged.

True or false: As an Army Air Force major, Marcel was a credible source for information about the debris.

Interviewers have suggested that Marcel was known to exaggerate certain aspects of his life. Some find his interviews to be unreliable -- either as support or denial -- in terms of the Roswell incident.

True or false: The incident has been subjected to dozens of scientific tests that seem to support the alien theory.

Most stories regarding the incident revolve around witness interviews that may or may not be reliable. Very few actual scientific inquiries have been built to really address the incident.

What was Operation High Dive?

In the '50s, the Air Force equipped human-shaped dummies with parachutes as part of high-altitude experiments. The military sent in troops to gather up these dummies in the desert -- some think these tests contributed to UFO sightings.

The Air Force admitted that it fabricated a story to cover up Project Mogul. When did it tell the truth?

In the late '90s, the Air Force finally admitted that it lied about the crash and cleanup. The delay in releasing the truth surely only added weight to conspiracy theories.

How many people reported seeing alien bodies around Roswell in 1947?

No one reported any alien bodies that year. It wasn't until the '50s (when Operation High Dive took place) that people first reported body sightings.

When are the Roswell aliens coming to snatch your children?

The Roswell incident, although intriguing, has been debunked as thoroughly as possible. There may indeed be aliens wandering our area, but Roswell isn't evidence of their presence.

True or false: All of the documents regarding Project Mogul have been declassified.

Most -- but not all -- of the project's files have been declassified. Because there are still secret files hidden away somewhere, some people will never believe the government's public stance on Roswell.

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