Sunspot Observatory in New Mexico Closed and Evacuated Due to Mysterious Security Risk

Sunspot Observatory was closed and evacuated Sept. 6 due to an undisclosed security risk. Officials aren’t saying why it was closed and that’s led to media coverage and plenty of speculation.

Authorities remain tight-lipped.

“Nothing’s changed from last week,” Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, or AURA, spokeswoman Shari Lifson said by phone Thursday afternoon.

Lifson offered no further information.

The Sunspot facility is a part of the National Solar Observatory and AURA maintains it.

“Last Thursday, we got a phone call in the morning from AURA who told us to say that they were temporarily evacuating the site and asked us to evacuate our people,” Sunspot Solar Observatory Director R.T. James McAteer said. “So, I called our people up and asked them to leave in a very sensible and calm manner and locked everything up. We’ve been out of there since Thursday morning.”

McAteer is a professor of astronomy at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, about an hour and a half to the west of the observatory. The observatory is located high in Sacramento Mountains. The closest city is Alamogordo, at the base of the Sacramentos — about 15 miles as the crow flies, but nearly an hour’s drive time away.

The Sunspot Solar Observatory is run by a consortium of universities that provide funding to operate the telescope and adjoining visitor’s center, McAteer said.

“Those are the two building where we have our employees at in Sunspot: the telescope and the visitor’s center,” McAteer said.

Which means that they are responsible for the guided tours and scientific data, he said.

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SOURCE: USA Today; Alamogordo Daily News, Nicole Maxwell