Observatory mystery: ‘It definitely wasn’t aliens’

By Robert Moore and Matt Zapotosky | Washington Post

SUNSPOT, N.M. – At a small solar observatory tucked away in the woods of a national forest here, scientists and other personnel were commanded last week to leave at once. A week later, the facility remains vacant, and no one is willing to say why.

The mysterious and lengthy evacuation, in a state known for secretive military testing and a suspected UFO crash, has spawned a wealth of speculation.

Did the researchers spot something extraterrestrial? Was the solar telescope hacked by a foreign power and deployed to spy on, say, the state’s missile testing range? Or is there an innocuous explanation, suppressed only because of corporate and government resistance to transparency?

On Friday, the entrance to the National Solar Observatory was blocked by yellow crime scene tape and two security guards, who said even they had been kept in the dark. The guards, from Red Rock Security & Patrol in Las Cruces, New Mexico, didn’t give their names, but said it was the first day the company was guarding the entrance and only the “director and an assistant” were allowed in. There was no obvious sign of law enforcement activity.

“We don’t know anything. We’re just as curious as anyone else,” one guard said.

A spokeswoman for the nonprofit group that runs the facility said the organization was addressing a “security issue,” but would offer no additional information, other than, “I can tell you it definitely wasn’t aliens.” She said Friday the facility “will remain closed until further notice.” Neither the FBI – which was spotted on the premises around the time of the evacuation – nor those who worked at the facility would tell local law enforcement what had happened, said Otero County Sheriff Benny House.

“They wouldn’t give us any details,” House said. “I’ve got ideas, but I don’t want to put them out there. That’s how bad press or rumors get started, and it’ll cause paranoia, or I might satisfy everybody’s mind and I might be totally off base.”

Unlike some of New Mexico’s other research facilities, the solar observatory in Sunspot is not usually shrouded in such secrecy.

The facility – in the Lincoln National Forest in the southern part of the state – is open to the public, and the scientists who work there offer guided tours of the site, said James McAteer, a professor at New Mexico State University and director of the Sunspot Solar Observatory consortium. When they’re not doing that, they use a special telescope and other instruments to study the sun. There are homes on the site where staff members live.

The Sunspot observatory sits at more than 9,000 feet and is part of a larger astronomy research facility on the site. The adjacent Apache Point Observatory, a collection of telescopes about a half-mile away, was operating as normal on Friday, with about a dozen cars parked outside.

House, the sheriff, said that just before 10 a.m. on Sept. 6, staff at the Sunspot facility called to report they were “evacuating the building,” …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Nation, World


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