Public in dark over closure of New Mexico solar observatory
(Reuters) - A New Mexico observatory aimed at unlocking the sun's secrets has been shut indefinitely by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation over an undisclosed security issue, leaving it at the center of its own mystery.
The Sunspot Solar Observatory, near Holloman Air Force Base and White Sands Missile Range, sits atop the Sacramento mountains in southern New Mexico. It has been closed since the FBI evacuated staff on Sept. 6.
The facility's location, near military installations two hours' drive from the town of Roswell, has sparked speculation on social media. Roswell was the site of a famous 1947 sighting of UFOs which the Air Force later said were top-secret high altitude weather balloons.
"Sounds like a case for Mulder & Scully," tweeted Ian Caverney, referring to the 1990s science fiction television series "The X-Files."
"This is very abnormal," Everisto Gomez, a dispatch operator for the Otero County Sheriffs Office, said on Friday.
The FBI has not responded to requests for comment, referring questions to the observatory's manager, the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA).
The group said in an email on Friday it would remain closed until further notice, citing an unspecified "ongoing security concern." Its sunspot activity data is used nationwide. Sunspots are regions of reduced temperatures on the sun that appear as dark spots on the surface.
"Our people just locked up their offices and made their way to all their homes around the area" after the closure, said Dr. James McAteer, who runs the solar telescope at the observatory, in an interview.
(Reporting by Julio-Cesar Chavez in El Paso and Joey Roulette in Orlando; Roulette; Writing by Bill Tarrant; Editing by Richard Chang)
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