SUNSPOT, NM – The Sunspot Observatory is temporarily closed due to a security issue at the facility that’s located 17 miles south of Cloudcroft in the Sacramento Mountains Friday, an Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) spokeswoman Shari Lifson said.
“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.”
She said she cannot comment on the specifics of the security issue.
The facility is the National Solar Observatory facility at Sacramento Peak that’s managed by AURA.
Apache Point Observatory (APO) is currently in operation. APO was not evacuated. APO is about a mile away from Sunspot observatory.
She said AURA does not have a comment about the type of security issue at this time.
“I am actually not sure (when the facility 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.”
She said the facility is closed to the public and Sunspot employees.
“We don’t know that yet (when the facility will open again),” Lifson said. “We are working with the proper authorities on this issues. 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 open it up as soon as possible.”
She said she cannot comment on whether the FBI was involved in the situation.
Otero County Sheriff Benny House said the Otero County Sheriff’s Office was asked to standby.
“The FBI is refusing to tell us what’s going on,” House said. “We’ve got people up there (at Sunspot) 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.”
He said he has a lot of unanswered question about what occurred at Sunspot.
“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.”
The Daily News contacted the Albuquerque FBI spokesman seeking comment for this story, but telephone calls and messages were never returned.
House said he pulled his deputies from the facility after there was no identifiable threat.
“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.”
House said he doesn’t understand why Sunspot didn’t call or notify them of the situation.
“They’re not federal employees,” he said. “It maybe 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.”