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Solar observatory sheds light on security issue that forced evacuations

The mystery behind the sudden closure of New Mexico's Sunspot Solar Observatory has been revealed -- sort of...

Posted: Sep 18, 2018 9:28 AM
Updated: Sep 18, 2018 9:28 AM

The mystery behind the sudden closure of New Mexico's Sunspot Solar Observatory has been revealed -- sort of -- in a statement announcing that the facility will reopen soon.

The September 6 evacuation of the solar research facility at Sacramento Peak had everyone talking, except authorities. Adding to the mystery was the additional evacuation of residents in the area without any explanation, CNN affiliate KOAT reported.

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Consequently, speculation mounted, including theories involving aliens and UFOs given the facility's location about 85 miles southwest of Roswell, where a mysterious object crashed in 1947. The brouhaha prompted the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA), which manages the observatory, to release a morsel of information: an unspecified "security issue" was to blame.

Finally, on Monday, AURA elaborated on the security issue.

AURA said it was cooperating with a 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 vacated the facility and ceased science activities at this location," the statement said.

"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."

Recent developments in the investigation have led to the determination that the threat is no more, and the facility is transitioning back to regular operations starting Monday, the statement said.

"Given the significant amount of publicity the temporary closure has generated, and the consequent expectation of an unusual number of visitors to the site, we are temporarily engaging a security service while the facility returns to a normal working environment," AURA said.

"We recognize that the lack of communications while the facility was vacated was concerning and frustrating for some. However, our desire to provide additional information had to be balanced against the risk that, if spread at the time, the news would alert the suspect and impede the law enforcement investigation. That was a risk we could not take."

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