Is mercury release cause of New Mexico solar observatory shutdown?

Story here. From the link:

The issue may be related to Mercury (the metal, not the planet). On a tip from a science journalist friend who covers telescopes and who has been there, I verified the observatory uses a vat of liquid mercury as a float bearing for the giant solar telescope. According to an internal NSO/NMSU document, that bearing is “high-risk” during maintenance. If there was a major mercury spill, it might explain why the Feds are there, with FBI providing security. The amount of Mercury is said to be in the “tens of gallons” range, which is next to impossible to come by in the commercial market these days, and if it were weaponized, it would make a very nasty dirty bomb. Perhaps there’s some security issue with the mercury on-site.

This is third hand, so it should be taken with a great deal of skepticism.


  • BSJ

    A “dirty bomb” using Mercury? That’s a load of claptrap…

    Sure, you wouldn’t want to drink the stuff, but it’s not that toxic!

  • wayne

    Yes, “dirty-bomb” using Mercury = that would be pretty low on my list of possibilities

    I don’t know the current price, but it is a commodity and is sold commercially in standardized 76lb flasks. It is controlled by the EPA for export purposes, but it is not a controlled substance per se. It’s mainly controlled to prevent amateur use in gold mining and extraction. But you can buy it right now on Ebay. It’s easier to buy Mercury than it is to buy pseudophed.

    If there was a spill, the EPA would have jurisdiction and not the FBI.
    And Mercury doesn’t explain the P.O. being shut down

  • Phill O

    Here is a link to some ACS grade mercury. ACS Amercian Chemical Society is the grade most used in laboratories. Analytical grade is of higher purity.

    Here is an MSDS (material safety data sheet)for mercury

    This MSDS may not be the best as it overstates some things. Mad as a Hatter referred to chronic mercury exposure from the Hatting process.

    The most hazardous form of mercury is as the dimethy (DMM) derivative. In fish, about 97% is as DMM. What is NEVER stated in the mercury debate is that DMM is lost rather rapidly during cooking. Hence, there is a bit of a hoax when it comes to the mercury debate.

  • wayne

    This is bothering me, big-time. (It makes even less sense than alien’s.) [and I’m sorta disappointed that “alien’s” were even brought up in this matter. It just fuels the flat-earthers and UFO-ites.]

    The phrase, “..they use a vat of mercury as a float bearing…” reveals a poor understanding of what bearing’s with mercury, actually are. Mercury bearing’s are sealed devices. (mercury does evaporate at room temperature/standard pressure, but it takes literally months-year for small amounts to evaporate.) Even if they had a spill during maintenance, the first call is to Chemtrol, then the EPA.
    >The FBI isn’t even on the list.
    (The Facility would have been literally wrapped in plastic and then teams of technicians would go in and vacuum it up, asap.)
    A 76lb flask is roughly 2 liters, and that amount would fit inside a small fire-extinguisher sized container. (and the 76lb storage/shipping flask alone, costs like’ $1,200, one time use. Although 1/2 pound amounts are shipped in standard plastic bottles.)
    And “tens of gallons” of tripled-distilled Mercury, can be had with a few mouse clicks and a credit card– it’s an industrial commodity.
    And mercury, still doesn’t explain the local Post Office going dark.

  • wayne

    Phill O;
    thanks for that.

  • Cotour

    This is the procedure for one broken CFL bulb.

    10. Continue ventilating the room for several hours.

    15. Dispose of cleaning supplies, broken bulbs and tubes and clothing, bedding or other soft materials at your local household hazardous waste facility – not in your garbage.


  • Phill O

    Government overkill Cotour. I do not doubt the validity of the link you found. This is part of the overkill regulations Trump’s admin. is trying to undo: and should be undone (and I think yu support)! Just consider the outrage over any exposure of radiation, yet health officials prescribe radiation: that is, they prescribe potassium in the diet, particularly for cramps. We know K40 (a naturally occurring nuclide) is radioactive and dosages from eating bananas can exceed most radon radiation in houses.

    In short, I believe the EPA has gotten out of control.

    Also note that some governments have banned incandescent lights favoring fluorescent bulb; at least until the LED came out. In short, the environmental industry has taken money from some companies competing with the old product. The ban of plastic straws was because some one paid so their cardboard straws could gain an edge.

    If I sound cynical, it is because history has supported these claims I am making.

  • Cotour

    I was just fleshing out the potential mercury element of the story, but the FBI, Black hawks and all the rest? I have no idea what all that might be about. ?????

  • wayne

    Cotour/Phill O:
    You are both correct to some extent.

    The modern compact fluorescent’s, do have like’ 1 gram of mercury, per unit. And you do not want to break these inside your house. Just don’t do it.
    (that’s industrial-grade mercury, I would defer to Phill over the numerous mercury derivatives in water or food and the extent of risk-reward in regulating them.)

    Prior to the wide spread use of compact fluorescent’s, the most casual-exposure of mercury that people encountered in their home’s, was breaking of an old mercury containing thermometer.
    Mercury is a component in coal and those emissions as well have been regulated to death.

    One of the alleged “trade-offs” we all had imposed upon us by environmental-statist’s:

    We have spent billions of dollars cleaning mercury out of the smokestacks of coal-fired electric plants, but now practically everyone has intentionally purchased multiple grams of mercury and brought it inside their homes.

    (don’t quote me, but it takes like 12-18 months for a single gram of mercury to fully evaporate into the air, @standard pressure/room-temperature. Until then, it fractionates into tiny little globule’s inside your house, gets into your carpet, floats around, etc. Not good.)

    What, is going on at the Observatory??

  • Chris: Interesting, but very speculative.

  • Chris

    Absolutely Bob, its speculative, but I thought I’d point out another interesting view.

  • Scodey Moe

    Doesn’t matter if it is speculative because they get paid for clicks on their website. if you migrate there to read the article they made money on you. That’s their plan.

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