There’s a mantra among reporters who have to regularly write about space exploration: It’s never aliens. Even when it comes to events that would almost certainly seem to involve aliens, like a last minute press conference organized by NASA about a “new discovery” or an announcement about a federal intelligence agency taking over an observatory, it never is.
Following last week’s bizarre announcement that the FBI had taken over the Sunspot solar observatory in New Mexico, conspiracy theories about the cause ran rampant on the internet. Aliens, of course, were a primary suspect. Why else would the feds have to commandeer a government facility that is mostly used to stare at the Sun?
Alas, dear reader, I’m afraid I must inform you that once again, aliens had nothing to do with it.
In a blog post quietly posted on Sunday night to the website of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA), which runs the Sunspot observatory along with the National Science Foundation, it was explained that the shutdown resulted from an abundance of caution during a criminal investigation.
“Aura has been cooperating with an on-going law enforcement investigation of criminal activity that occurred at Sacramento Peak,” the post reads. “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.”
According to the blog post, research resumed at the observatory on Monday after recent developments in the case made it clear that there is “no risk to staff.” Nevertheless, the observatory said it will temporarily employ a security detail in light of the “significant amount of publicity and the consequent expectation of an unusual number of visitors to the site.”