FBI Shuts Down Solar Observatory Located Between Two Strategic Air Force Bases Due to 'Security Issue'

The Sunspot Solar Observatory is located in Lincoln National Forest.

The Sunspot Solar Observatory is located in Lincoln National Forest.

The Sunspot Solar Observatory in New Mexico was closed, along with a local post office, September 6th due to a ‘security issue,’ according to Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) spokeswoman Shari Lifson.

“The Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy who manages the facility is addressing a security issue at this time,” Lifson said. “We have decided to vacate the facility at this time as precautionary measure. It was our decision to evacuate the facility.”

Lifson did not provide further details; only that the National Solar Observatory facility run by AURA at Sacramento Peak was closed to the public and all employees, and that it will remain vacated “until further notice.”

“I am actually not sure [when the observatory was vacated] but it will stay vacated until further notice,” Lifson said. “It’s the people that vacated. At this time, it’s the facility that’s closed.”

“We don’t know [when the observatory will reopen],” she continued. “We are working with the proper authorities on this issue. The local authorities do know and are aware of the situation. I don’t know when the facility was vacated but it was within the last day. It’s a temporary evacuation of the facility. We will open it up as soon as possible.”

The FBI is currently investigating the area, but local law enforcement has been left in the dark.

“The FBI is refusing to tell us what’s going on,” Otero County Sheriff Benny House said. “We’ve got people up [at the observatory] that requested us to standby while they evacuate it. Nobody would really elaborate on any of the circumstances as to why. The FBI were up there. What their purpose was nobody will say.”

The amount of attention being paid to the issue, whatever it is, has the sheriff concerned.

“But for the FBI to get involved that quick and be so secretive about it, there was a lot of stuff going on up there,” House said. “There was a Blackhawk helicopter, a bunch of people around antennas and work crews on towers but nobody would tell us anything.”

House said that local law enforcement left the scene after no identifiable threat was found.

“They wanted us up there to help evacuate but nobody would tell us anything,” he said. “We went up there and everything was good. There was no threat. Nobody would identify any specific threat. We hung out for a little while then we left. No reason for us to be there. Nobody would tell us what we’re supposed to be watching out for.”

For his part, House doesn't understand why the observatory employees didn't contact his department first.

“They’re not federal employees,” House said. “It may be somebody who threatened one of their workers. If that’s the case, why didn’t call us and let us deal with it. These guys are regular workers that work for this company. I don’t know why the FBI would get involved so quick and not tell us anything.”

The situation seems to indicate that the ‘security issue’ at hand was not something those reporting it thought was appropriate for local law enforcement to handle.

The Sunspot Solar Observatory is just under 200 miles south of Kirtland Air Force Base, and 20 miles east of Holloman Air Force Base, two of the U.S.’s most strategic military testing sites.

Holloman Air Force Base supports the nearby White Sands Missile Range, the Department of Defense's (DoD) largest, fully-instrumented, open air range.

Meanwhile, Kirtland Air Force Base was recently in the news for their part in reverse-engineering microwave weapons that the U.S. government believes Russia may have used against 26 U.S. embassy personnel in Cuba and China since 2016. The base has advanced laboratories used in their directed energy research program to test high-power electromagnetic weapons, including microwaves.

Counterintelligence operations on domestic soil fall under the purview of the FBI, so if a foreign power were conducting espionage through the observatory, then the FBI would be the agency sent to investigate.

Frank Fisher, a public affairs officer at FBI’s Albuquerque Division, has referred all inquiries to AURA.

Lifson, representing AURA, said yesterday that the facility remains closed because the research group is still “addressing a security issue” and “is working with the proper authorities on this issue,” but has no further comment about the nature of the security issue.

Local authorities have no more information than they did last Thursday.

“We don’t know what is going on. We haven’t had any updates. We haven’t gotten any information at all,” a dispatcher at the Otero County Sheriff's office said. “There’s not much we can do about it. We’ve decided to respect their wishes. We’re not going to make any inquiries and they’re not telling us.”

The Sunspot Solar Observatory updated their website with a message saying that "AURA made the decision to temporarily close" the facility, but they hope to "reopen as soon as possible."

On Thursday September 6th, AURA made the decision to temporarily close Sunspot. The Sunspot Solar Observatory continues to work closely with AURA in order to allow for us to reopen as soon as possible. With the excitement this closure has generated, we hope you will come and visit us when we do reopen, and see for yourself the services we provide for science and public outreach in heliophysics. If you have any questions about the science we perform at the telescope, or about the outreach we provide through our Visitors Center, please contact our Director, Dr McAteer (mcateer@nmsu.edu).

The incident has raised eyebrows among conspiracy theorists, too, with theories ranging from a UFO or alien contact cover-up to an imminent, massively destructive coronal event being kept from the public.

Tobias Wayland