We got close as 20 meters away from the main telescope and took some close-up shots of the surrounding buildings.
Editor’s note: as you already know by now, Sunspot National Solar Observatory, New Mexico, has been evacuated along with the small town that supports it on Sept. 6. The facility was evacuated “as a precautionary measure while addressing a security issue” and it remained off-limits since then. No further details were provided while the FBI investigated the issue. You can find many conspiracy theories online: from the need to keep a Solar Flare that will terminate us secret, to the imminent Alien Invasion. However, some interesting coverage can be read at the War Zone here and here. Now the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) organization that runs the observatory has released a statement according to which the facility will return to normal operations today, Sept. 17. Here below is the only piece of information about the reasons for the evacuation included in the statement:
“We recognize that the lack of communications while the facility was vacated was concerning and frustrating for some. However, our desire to provide additional information had to be balanced against the risk that, if spread at the time, the news would alert the suspect and impede the law enforcement investigation. That was a risk we could not take.”
On Sept. 15, journalist and The Aviationist’s contributor Eric Rosenwald visited the observatory. Here’s his first hand account along with video and pictures:
I was in Las Cruces, New Mexico on Saturday, September 15 for a commercial drone photography assignment. I was aware of the Sunspot, New Mexico solar observatory mystery, and, given that it was only 100 miles away from Las Cruces, I decided to see what I could find out after I completed my work. I didn’t expect to see anything spectacular. It had been a week since the initial incident, and I knew that security guards were at the site. Even so, the popularity of the story meant that there was still demand for reliable, unique new images of the facility.
When I arrived at the front gate, I was greeted by three uniformed, armed security officers. They were friendly, but said that they weren’t aware of how or why the facility had been evacuated. I recorded video and took photos near the gate. Several curious onlookers showed up in vehicles, and left while I was filming.
According to a security guard, one of the residents at the facility didn’t fully evacuate. He camped at the edge of the property, next to an unmarked campsite complete with a fire ring 20 meters from the main gate. By the time I got there, he had left the campsite and returned to his home. Apparently, he was frustrated with the evacuation and lack of updates. Sunspot is not simply the location of a telescope. It’s a self-sufficient town complete with its own post office. People have homes in Sunspot.
A Security guard informed me that the nearby Apache Peak Observatory grounds were open to the public, adding that I shouldn’t use my vehicle headlights after 7pm to avoid interfering with telescope operations. After a final chat with the guards, I drove back down the road from Sunspot, and turned onto a separate road that led to the observatory on Apache Peak.
Upon arrival, I parked in the guest lot, walked to an outcrop that overlooks the valley that cradles White Sands Missile Range, and spent several minutes taking photos. I was running out of daylight, so I didn’t walk onto the telescope grounds. Instead, I drove down the access road, parked, and hiked cross-country to the perimeter of the solar observatory in Sunspot. I spent several minutes recording video and taking photos of the Dunn telescope and surrounding buildings. It started to rain during the hike, which led to the development of a rainbow near the telescope.
I didn’t see any people, signs of an evacuation, or anything else that seemed unusual or notable. At sunset, I returned to my vehicle. As I traveled down one of the access roads, I passed several bow hunters, free-range cattle and deer.
I was satisfied with the images I brought back, but the ongoing mystery left me with a desire to remain, and continue investigating the area. Unfortunately, I had to go back to Tucson.
Here below you can see the video filmed by the Author at the National Solar Observatory on Saturday: