SUNSPOT, N.M. – The solar observatory located in Sunspot, N.M. that was closed for safety reasons is scheduled to reopen after it was shut down while the FBI investigated the area.
According to a release by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA), the observatory will reopen Monday after criminal activity was reported at Sacramento Peak.
The release also stated that the investigation involved a suspect who AURA officials believed posed a threat to the safety of staff and residents that live nearby.
AURA has not released the current status of the suspect or any information involving the suspect.
ABC-7 learned the observatory had closed on Sept. 6 and that staff and some residents in the area were forced to evacuate.
According to AURA, they did not release any information about the closure because of the potential of alerting the suspect and impede the law enforcement investigation.
Here’s the complete statement from AURA:
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.
Funded by the National Science Foundation, the observatory operates a series of powerful telescopes with the aim of “unlocking the mysteries of the Sun and its effects on the Earth.” The closure gained widespread attention because of officials’ lack of transparency at the time.
Local sheriff Benny House told Newsweek that his department was also in the dark about the incident. “Basically, they told us there’s a threat just by their actions, but they refuse to tell us what to look for,” he said. “That’s not fair to us.” Experts were quick to shut down suggestions from conspiracy theorists and tabloid media that aliens had been involved in the sudden closure.