Statement about closure of solar observatory

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit.

AURA, the university consortium that operates the closed Sunspot Solar Observatory in New Mexico, issued a statement today about that closure.

AURA has been cooperating with an on-going law enforcement investigation of criminal activity that occurred at Sacramento Peak. 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 at this location.

The decision to vacate was based on the logistical challenges associated with protecting personnel at such a remote location, and the need for expeditious response to the potential threat. AURA determined that moving the small number of on-site staff and residents off the mountain was the most prudent and effective action to ensure their safety.

In light of recent developments in the investigation, we have determined there is no risk to staff, and Sunspot Solar Observatory is transitioning back to regular operations as of September 17th. Given the significant amount of publicity the temporary closure has generated, and the consequent expectation of an unusual number of visitors to the site, we are temporarily engaging a security service while the facility returns to a normal working environment.

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.

This news release, while still very vague about the criminal investigation, implies that there was a dangerous criminal suspect on the mountain that federal officials were pursuing, and they evacuated to protect their employees.

This explanation still leaves serious questions. Why for example were local police kept in the dark about this investigation? It makes no sense not to include them, unless they might be a target of the investigation, something that in this case does not appear to be true.

Also, if there was a criminal on the mountain, secrecy is not really an effective way to catch him. It might make sense, but they have not provided us any information that would explain this.


Every July, to celebrate the anniversary of the start of Behind the Black in 2010, I hold a month-long fund-raising campaign to make it possible for me to continue my work here for another year.

This year's fund-raising drive however is more significant in that it is also the 10th anniversary of this website's founding. It is hard to believe, but I have been doing this for a full decade, during which I have written more than 22,000 posts, of which more than 1,000 were essays and almost 2,600 were evening pauses.

This year's fund drive is also more important because of the growing intolerance of free speech and dissent in American culture. Increasingly people who don't like what they read are blatantly acting to blackball sites like mine. I have tried to insulate myself from this tyrannical effort by not depending on Google advertising or cross-posts Facebook or Twitter. Though this prevents them from having a hold on me, it also acts to limit my exposure.

Therefore, I hope you will please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar below. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.


Regular readers can support Behind The Black with a contribution via paypal:

Or with a subscription with regular donations from your Paypal or credit card account:


If Paypal doesn't work for you, you can support Behind The Black directly by sending your donation by check, payable to Robert Zimmerman, to
Behind The Black
c/o Robert Zimmerman
P.O.Box 1262
Cortaro, AZ 85652


  • Jason Lewis

    Being an observatory, I couldn’t help but wonder if someone got some ideas from the antics done in Hawaii. Does anyone know why someone might not like the existence of an observatory in the Sacramento Mountains in New Mexico?

  • wayne

    Do we know if the Post Office is now open?

    “…an on-going law enforcement investigation of criminal activity that occurred…”

    To me, that means, a personal problem involving one of our personnel, i.e. stalker-behavior, that may or may not have involved the postal system.

    I guess we can’t discount ecoterrorism in the mix.

  • Mike Borden

    Honestly my first thought with all of the secrecy involved as well as the fbi, was chinese or russian hacking into the systems.

  • Jason Lewis

    Wayne’s comment reminds me of the incident at the McDonald observatory where an employment shot at his supervisor and then shot up the primary mirror of the telescope. Details are here

  • Orion314

    I’d have far more confidence having Larry , Moe , and Curly looking into this VS anything done by the FBI. Ill never trust the FBI on anything , ever. They will forever reek of corruption. They need to be disbanded.

  • Localfluff

    So it might’ve been a murderer hiding in a desolate place, where there happens to be a Solar observatory.

  • Jimbo

    Here is a plausible explanation from The War Zone: Espionage.

    The observatory overlooks a military technology testing facility.

  • wayne

    that’s a fair interpretation.

    Jason– recall the female astronaut that lost her mind and went on a stalking-spree?

    No doubt.
    If the FBI told me the sky was blue, I’d wonder what lie they were perpetrating.

    Richard Kimble could have been working as a handyman at the Observatory. (But that still doesn’t explain the post office…)
    The Fugitive 1963

  • wayne

    a fair interpretation.
    Too much exclusive Federal involvement, and nebulous official-statements.

    (One thing I’m sure of– if it was a Trump supporter, they wouldn’t shut up about it, so we can’t discount terrorism, stalking/love triangle gone wrong aimed at Staff, chi-com and/or islamic jihad infiltration.

  • Jason Hillyer

    This sounds more and more like the beginning to an alien invasion…

  • wayne

    Jason–never underestimate the ability of people to get themselves involved in bizzaro-world Adventures.

    that being said…..
    Star Trek ENT:
    Xindi Destruction of Earth

  • Col Beausabre

    This whole thing couldn’t have been handled worse from a PR stand[point. By now, whenever the Feds and Observatory tell us the truth about what happened, there will be a large segment of America that won’t believe them. I think we’ll see the first books telling us the “truth” about the incident within a year (a large segment of the publishing industry is totally shameless – look at all the “New Age” , “Ancient Aliens”, “Chariots of the Gods”, Roswell, etc crap overflowing the bookshelves, then look for the solitary shelf or two reporting genuine science)

  • Robert Pratt

    The one juicy rumor involves espionage saying, plausibly, that the facilities offer a prime observation post for electronic observation of White Sands and Holloman AFB. It’s certainly believable that some researcher or technician could have installed things on an existing mast or other structure that would be simply lost among the other items.
    A good rumor and one that would make a fine spy thriller.

  • Alex Andrite

    Jason – the Invasion has been completed ….. Ack …ACK ack ack !
    Now for some good old Country singing …. oh, and Tom Jones as well

    love it.

  • mediatechnology

    My evolving espionage theory regarding Sunspot is here:

  • hondo

    Possible vague terrorism threat?
    With that amount of mercury on hand and the regional hydrology? An ecological disaster?
    Bob – you know your Geo – impact of many gallons of mercury into surface and sub-ground waters? Long term latency?
    Would this bring in the FBI?
    Maybe – maybe not – any sign of EPA about?

  • wayne

    Hondo —
    I’m putting mercury low on the list.

    “4 Gallon Mercury Spill closes Mail Processing Center – TX”

  • wodun

    Maybe someone was growing weed or cooking meth on the campus.

  • OM

    “so we can’t discount terrorism, stalking/love triangle gone wrong aimed at Staff, chi-com and/or islamic jihad infiltration.”

    It could even be ALL of them at the same time! What if it was a lovesick islamic jihadi infiltrating Chi-com who was stalking somebody with terrorist intent? Sounds plausible.

  • OM: Heh. You left out the FBI.

  • wayne

    (I could tell you some stories. Folks get embroiled in all sorts of intricate inter-personal Adventures.)

    ‘Chinese deep-cover Grad-student spy, embroiled with whacky microbiologist Islamic jihadi girlfriend, who in turn is spurned in favor of the FBI confidential Astronomy grad-student informant, sent in to investigate Mercury thefts at the Observatory, and mails anthrax to everyone in a fit of rage.’

    (it’s always a Mole hunt.)

    >see “Lisa Nowak” {first, sadly, she lost her mind, then she eventually lost her right to vote & own a gun. }

    It’s the Post Office connection, if there is one, that befuddles me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *