On September 6, 2018, the Sunspot Solar Observatory in Otero County, New Mexico, was, without any warning, evacuated for ten days. While nearby residents wondered what was going on, the FBI was called in to investigate...something. It didn't take long for rumors to circulate: perhaps the observatory had discovered something of an extra-terrestrial nature while studying the heavens.
The observatory is 71 years old and managed by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) under the terms of an agreement with the National Science Foundation. Located 9,200 feet above sea level, at the top of Sacramento Peak, the observatory is considered "America's national center for ground-based solar physics." So it would come as no surprise to UFO-believers if first-contact was made in the relatively isolated mountain-based facility.
People have also wondered whether the observatory was closed due to some sort of alien contact or discovery for several other reasons. For one thing, it's located near the Holloman Air Force Base and White Sands Missile Range. When the observatory and its surrounding homes were evacuated due to a "security issue," details were kept strictly under wraps, but the fact is, this was all happening in New Mexico, home of the 1947 Roswell UFO Incident, a mainstay of alien-based conspiracy theories for decades.
Employees and residents weren't the only ones with no idea what was happening. Otero County Sheriff Benny House was left just as confused as every other person, according to The Washington Post:
I've got ideas, but I don't want to put them out there. That's how bad press or rumors get started, and it'll cause paranoia, or I might satisfy everybody's mind and I might be totally off base.
Finally, on Sunday September 16 (ten days after the evacuation), AURA offered an explanation for its closing in a statement:
AURA has been cooperating with an ongoing 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.
AURA knew that keeping the investigation mysterious "was concerning and frustrating for some:"
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.
The observatory's staff (which comprises about nine employees) should be back to work this week, and nearby residents are being let back into their homes as swiftly as possible. AURA's statement concludes:
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.
Of course, many people on Twitter will always believe in the aliens:
But others are a little less paranoid...
Until a suspect is criminally prosecuted, we'll never know for sure what was happening during those ten fateful days on Sacramento Peak. Law enforcement better hurry and set the facts in stone, however, or conspiracy theorists will likely mark this entire incident as the next chapter in the ever-evolving Roswell saga.