Sunspot solar observatory reopens after FBI criminal investigation

Sunspot National Solar Observatory resumed normal operations Monday after an FBI quarantine and investigation of the site, a nearby post office, and several area residences came to an end.

Little to no details are known about the ‘security threat’ which prompted the deployment of military Black Hawk helicopters and numerous local, state, and federal law enforcement officials on Sept 6 to seize the site and surrounding area making it off limits.

According to reports, the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy and the National Science Foundation reportedly made the call to shut the facility down on the Sept 6 but that does not explain the presence of military helicopters and so many federal authorities.

AURA released the following statement on Sunday:

Sunspot Solar Observatory is transitioning back to regular operations as of September 17th

On September 6th, the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) made the decision to temporarily vacate the Sunspot Solar Observatory at Sacramento Peak, New Mexico as a precautionary measure while addressing a security issue. The facility closed down in an orderly fashion and is now re-opening. The residents that vacated their homes will be returning to the site, and all employees will return to work this week.

AURA has been cooperating with an on-going 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 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.

In light of recent developments in the investigation, we have determined there is no risk to staff, and Sunspot Solar Observatory is transitioning back to regular operations as of September 17th. 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.

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.

Although ARUA’s explanation seems plausible it doesn’t seem probable. There is likely much more to the story.

Is there more to the Sunspot National Solar Observatory story?

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