Evacuated solar observatory in New Mexico is reopening, but we still don’t know what happened

It’s never aliens. That’s the lesson we can all take from the recent mysterious shutdown of the Sunspot Solar Observatory in New Mexico – which is about to reopen.

The site, which hosts one of the largest active solar telescopes in the world, was shut down on 6 September and evacuated without an official explanation – which was all we needed to let our imaginations go wild.

From a government cover-up of first contact with aliens to foreign spies and multi-dimensional portals, wild theories proliferated across the internet.

The site’s remote wilderness location high up in the Lincoln National Forest and quotes from the locals telling the media they had no idea what’s going on, added the perfect fuel to the conspiracy fire.

“Nobody would really elaborate on any of the circumstances as to why. The FBI were up there. What their purpose was nobody will say,” Otero County Sheriff Benny House told Alamogordo Daily News last week.

We may never know what the FBI was doing up there at Sunspot, but the observatory has announced it will “begin to transition back to regular operations” on September 17.

The organisation that runs this observatory, the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA), was tight-lipped throughout the whole ordeal, only citing a “security issue”.

Now, AURA has released a full statement, explaining that employees will be returning to work this week, and the people living on-site who were evacuated will be returning to their homes as well.

“AURA has been cooperating with an on-going law enforcement investigation of criminal activity that occurred at Sacramento Peak,” reads the statement.

“During this time, we became concerned that a suspect in the investigation potentially posed a threat to the safety of local staff and residents.

“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.”

Apparently, the organisation couldn’t provide additional details at the time because they worried the news spreading could interfere with the investigation. Whelp, let’s hope all the wild rumours sparked by the lack of explanation didn’t make things worse.

Of course, as with any good conspiracy, there are still plenty of gaps in the story, and those who truly want to believe that something fishy went down at Sunspot will likely find AURA’s explanation insufficient.

Meanwhile, the observatory will be back in action this week, and they’re sending a clear signal of not hiding anything (how clever).

“With the excitement this closure has generated, we hope you will come and visit us as we reopen, and see for yourself the services we provide for science and public outreach in heliophysics,” states Sunspot’s website.

Well, the excitement sure was fun while it lasted. Maybe next time it will be aliens.

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