SALT LAKE CITY — A solar observatory in New Mexico reopened Monday after a 10-day closure for reasons that haven’t been thoroughly explained, according to CNN.
Aliens, though, weren’t involved.
What happened: On Sept. 6, the Sunspot Solar Observatory in New Mexico was shut down by its operator, the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, according to NPR.
- No reason was given for the closure. Later, it was reported that a security threat led to the closure. The security threat remains unclear.
- Those who work at the observatory and who live on the campus were randomly asked to leave. The location’s post office also shut down for the 10 days.
- Local newspapers reported suspicious activity at the facility involving government agents and military vehicles.
Confusion: Local officials and residents were bewildered by the sudden closure.
- “Nothing really happens here very much. And since nobody knows, it could be almost anything,” one resident told KRQE.
The Otero County sheriff told The Alamogordo Daily News he was made aware of the closure. But he didn’t receive any official reason.
- "The FBI is refusing to tell us what's going on," Sheriff Benny House told The Alamogordo Daily News shortly after the closure. "We've got people up there (at Sunspot) that requested us to standby while they evacuate it. Nobody would really elaborate on any of the circumstances as to why. The FBI were up there. What their purpose was nobody will say."
- "But for the FBI to get involved that quick and be so secretive about it, there was a lot of stuff going on up there," House added. "There was a Blackhawk helicopter, a bunch of people around antennas and work crews on towers but nobody would tell us anything."
John Varsik, a data scientist and telescope operator at California's Big Bear Solar Observatory, told BuzzFeed News that, "nothing like this has ever happened before at an observatory.”
- “It’s all very fishy," he said.
Reason for closure: AURA, the consortium and the National Science Foundation, released a statement that said a security threat led to the closure.2 comments on this story
- "AURA has been cooperating with an ongoing law enforcement investigation of criminal activity that occurred at Sacramento Peak. During this time, we became concerned that a suspect in the investigation potentially posed a threat to the safety of local staff and residents. For this reason, AURA temporarily evacuated the facility and ceased science activities at this location.
- "The decision to vacate was based on the logistical challenges associated with protecting personnel at such a remote location, and the need for expeditious response to the potential threat. AURA determined that moving the small number of on-site staff and residents off the mountain was the most prudent and effective action to ensure their safety."
Back to normal: The observatory returned to normal operations on Monday.