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NM observatory to stay closed ‘until further notice’


One of the solar telescopes at Sunspot Observatory in Sunspot, New Mexico. (Nick Pappas/Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A small observatory in southwest New Mexico made national headlines and set conspiracy theorists atwitter last week after being mysteriously evacuated without explanation from officials, and now those same officials are saying the facility will remain closed for the time being.

Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy spokeswoman Shari Lifson said Friday the Sunspot Solar Observatory, near Alamogordo, will not be reopening “until further notice” due to an “ongoing security concern.”

“AURA will provide additional information as it becomes available,” she said.

Lifson said there were nine New Mexico State University and AURA staff working at the facility when it was evacuated last Thursday. A nearby post office was also evacuated.

Since the evacuation, the story has spread to news outlets around the globe as conspiracy theorists and UFO enthusiasts speculate on message boards over the web with theories ranging from an alien coverup to antennae hacking.

Both AURA and authorities refused to provide any details on why the facility was evacuated.

Local Otero County Sheriff Benny House said earlier last week that deputies were not alerted to the situation until observatory employees called and told deputies the FBI had come in and told them to evacuate.

FBI spokesman Frank Fisher in Albuquerque would not detail the cause of the evacuation and referred all questions to AURA, which manages the National Solar Observatory facility.

But Fisher did say Friday that there were “no extraterrestrials” involved in the incident.

The facility, located on Sacramento Peak in the Lincoln National forest, is overseen by AURA and owned by the National Solar Observatory.

“The rest of the National Solar Observatory facilities remain open and are operating normally,” Lifson said