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Observatory to Reopen After 11-Day Closure for Security

NM facility hasn't disclosed nature of threat
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 17, 2018 1:12 AM CDT
An employee and resident of the National Solar Observatory set up a tent, far right, near the entrance Friday, Sept. 14, 2018, in Sunspot, NM.   (Dylan Taylor-Lehman/Alamogordo Daily News via AP)
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(Newser) – An observatory in the mountains of southern New Mexico that had been closed since early September because of an undisclosed security concern is scheduled to reopen on Monday, officials managing the facility said. The Sunspot Solar Observatory no longer faces a security threat to staff, the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy said in a statement Sunday. The facility closed on Sept. 6. The association has hired a temporary security team to patrol the observatory when it reopens. "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," the association said.

Authorities have not revealed the nature of the security threat the observatory faced, the AP reports. The FBI has referred all questions to the association. "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," the association said. Located atop Sacramento Peak, the observatory overlooks the Tularosa Basin—an expanse of desert that includes Holloman Air Force Base, White Sands Missile Range, White Sands National Monument, and the site of the world's first atomic bomb test.

(Read more observatory stories.)

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