Some very, very weird shit is currently going down at the National Solar Observatory in Sunspot, New Mexico, and no one, except for the FBI, has any idea why. On September 6, without warning, the feds rolled up with a horde of agents, ordering an immediate evacuation of the facility and a nearby post office. It's since set up shop, closing the facility—without any reason or explanation. Even the local sheriff, Benny House, was kept completely in the dark.
"The FBI is refusing to tell us what’s going on," House told the Alamogordo Daily News. "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... There was a Blackhawk helicopter, a bunch of people around antennas, and work crews on towers, but nobody would tell us anything."
Now, more than a week later, Sunspot's solar observatory is still locked down, and we're no closer to understanding what the hell is actually going on. The best we've got for an explanation came from a very vague post on the observatory's Facebook, saying that the "Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) is addressing a security issue" at the facility and has "no further comment at this time." Weird!
Naturally, in the absence of any real information, a flood of conspiracy theories have rolled in to try to fill in the gaps. Did the observatory stumble across evidence that the sun is about to explode? Did aliens finally make contact? Who knows! Is this whole thing a very elaborate viral marketing scheme for another X-Files reboot? We can hope!
Here's a quick rundown of all the major theories surrounding the New Mexico observatory mystery. We'll leave it on you, dear readers, to separate the fact from the fiction—and then decide, yep, it's definitely aliens.
A Massive Sun Disaster Is Coming
The Evidence: This is the most discussed theory going around right now, and for good reason. It's got it all—vague facts, confusing science, and fully apocalyptic implications. To understand it, we have to look back at the Carrington Event in the mid-1800s, when a solar storm sent out something called a "coronal mass ejection" that rocked Earth and shorted out telegraph systems across the world, according to National Geographic. The date when the Carrington Event hit? Early September, 1859.
Of course, our modern world relies on a lot more technology than some weak-ass telegraph systems, so a similar event today could fuck some serious shit up. And if the government knew it was coming and couldn't stop it, would it immediately spill the beans and send the world into a panic? Probably not. Plus, according to some unsubstantiated Reddit posts going around, Sunspot isn't the only space observation that mysteriously went dark over the last couple weeks—a bunch of observatory livestreams allegedly went down "at the same time" and Spaceweather.eu is "temporarily unavailable" for some reason.
Still, though. Let's be real. First of all, there's a huge number of people, both professional and amateur, keeping tabs on the sun's patterns constantly, so someone else would have noticed a solar flare. Plus, if someone at Sunspot really did see the Big One coming last week, the super flare would've reached us by now. And since you're currently reading this on a functioning computer, that seems unlikely. Sorry.
Likelihood of Truth: 1/10
There Was a UFO Crash
The Evidence: What possible reason would the FBI have for taking over the local post office building than to use it to house the charred remains of an alien life form? Well, sure, there are a ton of reasons, but come on! The observatory is in New Mexico. Know what else is in New Mexico, a mere 120 miles away from Sunspot? Roswell.
Plus, the director of Sunspot told local news station KOB that the "telescope did not see aliens," according to Gizmodo, which is exactly what someone who saw aliens but didn't want to admit it would say!
Likelihood of Truth: 5/10
There Was a Terrible Mercury Leak
The Evidence: Sunspot observatory has a liquid-mercury mirror telescope, which uses spun mercury to reflect images instead of giant lenses, like Hubble. This theory offers that somehow there was a deadly mercury leak, and everyone needed to be evacuated while the government cleaned it up.
Unfortunately, things don't exactly add up—if it really is something as seemingly mundane as a chemical leak, why all the secrecy? Why not tell the sheriff? Plus, shouldn't the Center for Disease Control be involved? On the surface, a mercury leak sounds like a plausible explanation, but it doesn't really stand up once you put it, uh, under the microscope.
Likelihood of Truth: 4/10
Chinese Spies Hacked the Observatory
The Evidence: According to valiant YouTuber JonXArmy, he has uncovered the definitive explanation for why the FBI swooped into Sunspot: China has hacked an antennae array at the observatory and was using it to spy on the nearby White Sands Missile Range.
"Supposedly, the Chinese had set up shop at this Sunspot telescope," he says in one video, "and who knows what all information they were harvesting via an antennae array."
Of course, the guy says his theory is based solely on a single Reddit post he read, but it's at least more plausible than a solar apocalypse, so let's give it to him.
Likelihood of Truth: 6/10
Some Stranger Things-Type Shit Is Happening
The Evidence: OK, there's no actual evidence that a New Mexico observatory is harboring an interdimensional portal full of hell-beasts from the Upside Down or whatever, so this one isn't all that believable. But all the pieces are there! An innocuous government facility? A potentially massive cover-up? A nosy local sheriff bent on finding the truth? A nearby town that probably has some kids in it? The only way it could scream "Stranger Things" more is if some local cats start disappearing.
Likelihood of Truth: 2/10
Likelihood That Some Struggling Screenwriter Will Read This Article and Get Inspired to Write a Derivative Sci-Fi Spec Pilot: 10/10
We Will Never Actually Find Out Anything
The Evidence: This whole mystery is very compelling right now, but give it another couple weeks. The best we can hope for is that the FBI holds some kind of bland press conference with an even blander explanation, and that'll be it. Sunspot will be forgotten, destined to live on only in that one kid's terrible TV script, and everyone will collectively move on to the next confusing mystery in a world full of confusing mysteries.
Of course, that's exactly what the government would want you to do if it actually just made contact with alien lifeforms in a remote section of New Mexico! Wake up, sheeple! Keep your real eyes realizing or whatever!
Likelihood of Truth: 9/10
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.
Follow VICE on Twitter.