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article imageMysterious 'security issue' closes Sunspot Solar Observatory

By Karen Graham     Sep 15, 2018 in Science
The mystery surrounding the evacuation of a small mountainous area in Southern New Mexico has led to a lot of conspiracy theories. The NSO's Sunspot Solar Observatory has been closed for a week as officials investigate a "security issue."
The NSO's Sunspot Solar Observatory, on Sacramento Peak in the southern part of the state, was evacuated last Thursday (Sept. 6), as was a nearby post office, according to the Albuquerque Journal.
The Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) manages the Sunspot observatory with funding from the U.S. National Science Foundation. The facility's website said the observatory and surrounding area are closed until further notice “due to unforeseen circumstances.”
In a statement, AURA spokeswoman Shari Lifson said: “The Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy is addressing a security issue... and has decided to temporarily vacate the facility as a precautionary measure. We have no further comment at this time.”
AURA "is working with the proper authorities on this issue," the statement adds, without specifying who those authorities are, reports
Otero County Sheriff, Benny House was caught by surprise by the closing of the facility. “Some folks that work at the laboratory called us, asked us if we could send a deputy to stand by while they were evacuating,” House said during a phone interview Wednesday. “All the employees were packing up and leaving.”
Aerial view of the Sunspot Solar Observatory site on Sacramento Peak in New Mexico. Sunspot is part ...
Aerial view of the Sunspot Solar Observatory site on Sacramento Peak in New Mexico. Sunspot is part of the National Solar Observatory, which is funded by the US National Science Foundation.
Sunspot Solar Observatory
Sheriff House said they didn't get any answer either, but some employees told his deputies the FBI had been there. “Nobody would give us any information on what was going on,” House said before the phone call cut out and repeated attempts to reach him again were unsuccessful.
Everyone is still in the dark and it looks like that is the way "authorities" want it to remain. At 2 p.m. EDT Friday, AURA spokeswoman, Shari Lifson sent out an email update, which stated that AURA "has decided that the observatory will remain closed until further notice due to an ongoing security concern."
The Sunspot Solar Observatory
The Sunspot Solar Observatory is located in Sunspot, New Mexico, and is part of the Lincoln National Forest on the western edge of the Sacramento Mountains. The site covers about 250 acres (100 hectares) and is located on National Forest Service lands.
Tularosa Basin Sunset June 5  2018 from the Sunspot Solar Observatory.
Tularosa Basin Sunset June 5, 2018 from the Sunspot Solar Observatory.
Sunspot Solar Observatory
The facility overlooks the Tularosa Basin — an expanse of desert that includes the city of Alamogordo, Holloman Air Force Base, White Sands Missile Range, White Sands National Monument and the site of the world's first atomic bomb test, reports Minnesota Public Radio.
The observatory was established by the U.S. Air Force in 1947, and after several years of operation, was transferred to the National Solar Observatory, which is part of the National Science Foundation. The facility was upgraded in 2016 through the newly formed Sunspot Solar Observatory Consortium.
The centerpiece of the facility is the Richard B. Dunn Solar Telescope (DST), previously known as the Vacuum Tower Telescope. There are also four other telescopes. An Antartic Mount telescope is situated beside the Visitor's Center on site and provides a light feed into the Visitor's Center
More about national solar observatory, Aura, security issue, New mexico, Evacuations
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