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article imageAstronomers are latest victims of Mexico's gang violence

By Karen Graham     Feb 8, 2019 in World
Astronomers have become the latest victims of Mexico's violence with activities at two observatories being reduced because their staff suffered crimes while traveling to the remote mountain sites, researchers said Thursday.
Mexico’s National Institute of Astrophysics, Optics, and Electronics (INAOE) in San Andrés Cholula made the announcement of the scale-back of operations on February 5.
The two observatories, the Large Millimeter Telescope (LMT) and the High-Altitude Water Cherenkov Gamma-Ray Observatory (HAWC) are both located on the extinct Sierra Negra volcano in the Mexican state of Puebla.
The LMT is the world's largest single-dish steerable millimeter-wavelength telescope and is jointly run by the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and Mexico's national institute of astrophysics (INAOE). Built for observing radio waves in wavelengths from approximately 0.85 to 4 mm, the telescope has an active surface with a diameter of 50 meters (160 feet) and has 1,960 square meters (21,100 square feet) of collecting area.
Pico de Orizaba and  on the riught  the extinct caldera of Sierra Negra
Pico de Orizaba and, on the riught, the extinct caldera of Sierra Negra
David Tuggy
Violence and fuel thieves
Puebla's state border with neighboring Vera Cruz has long been a scene for criminal activity by the Zetas drug cartel, which has been broken up. More recently, gangs of fuel thieves have moved in, not only drilling holes in gas pipelines to steal the fuel but resorting to other criminal activities.
The researchers would not divulge the details of any of the crimes, but the highway leading up the mountain has become a target for carjackings and robberies in recent weeks as Mexico battles with the rampant theft of gasoline and diesel fuel from its pipelines.
Scientists and researchers have stopped visiting HAWC altogether, according to Science Magazine, even canceling a planned repair trip. INAOE astrophysicist and LMT Director David Hughes. said, “I cannot responsibly continue the scientific operation of the telescope until these issues are addressed.”
HAWC gamma ray and cosmic ray observation facility
HAWC gamma ray and cosmic ray observation facility
Hughes said that “a severe security incident” caused him to dramatically reduce operations, but refused to describe what had actually happened or what is being done to protect employees and collaborators.
"The University of Massachusetts Amherst has suspended travel of UMass personnel to the LMT site, and we have retained security consultants to advise us on security risks in the area and strategies to deal with these risks," said university spokesman Ed Blaguszewski.
Mexico's astrophysics institute said in a statement that "the unsafe conditions that prevail in the region are well known and public," adding, “we have notified the appropriate authorities about the crimes its employees have reported. “
More about Mexico, Astronomers, Alfonso Serrano Large Millimeter Telescope, Violence, fuel thieves
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