If you were to write a movie screenplay in which some cosmic disaster befalls mankind, you could do worse than lifting the opening scene from news reports of what happened at a New Mexico observatory last week:
A space observatory at the centre of swirling alien conspiracy theories has asked for “patience” as it continues to be locked down.
The Sunspot Solar Observatory in Sunspot, New Mexico caught the attention of the world when it was shut down by FBI agents who reportedly swooped on the facility after arriving in elite Blackhawk helicopters.
It led immediately to suggestions the advanced technology inside of the facility spotted something it shouldn’t – such as proof of extraterrestrials, UFOs or even some baseless speculation that the observatory had spotted that the sun has started dying. The fact the observatory is only about 120 miles from the site of the Roswell UFO incident has only fuelled speculation.
The FBI and the administrators of the facility have said only that the shutdown happened because of a “security issue”.
In the days since, the sheriff’s department has said it has no idea what is going on. And the lockdown continues with no new information.
Could the observatory have detected something that has the authorities spooked? Like a catastrophic solar storm? (The director denies this.)
The Sunspot observatory on Sacramento Peak overlooks Holloman Air Force Base and an observer could potentially see out to the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Test range. That has raised questions about possible espionage. “New Mexico is a center of national-security-related science, and for that reason it has also been a prominent venue for foreign espionage,” says Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy. “Spies go where the secrets are, and there are plenty of secrets in New Mexico.”
But, Aftergood says, a solar observatory might not be the best place to conduct such activity. “I imagine most or all of its sensors are directed up.” He wonders if someone at the Sunspot observatory somehow inadvertently spotted a classified satellite or transmission, triggering the shutdown.
It wasn’t aliens, I tell ya:
A spokeswoman for the nonprofit group that runs the facility said the organization was addressing a “security issue,” but would offer no additional information, other than, “I can tell you it definitely wasn’t aliens.”