New Mexico

NMSU director at Sunspot Solar Observatory also in the dark over sudden closure

Details still shallow in observatory closing

LAS CRUCES, N.M. - New Mexico State University's director of the Sunspot Solar Observatory said the evacuation of the facility last week was "extremely calm."

"I picked up the phone, called our people, and asked them to lock up everything and leave quietly and sensibly," said Dr. James McAteer, who also teaches astronomy at NMSU. "It was extremely calm. They locked everything up and they left."

Last week, ABC-7 broke the news that the FBI evacuated the National Solar Observatory and the USPS office in Sunspot for "security reasons." New Mexico State has four employees at the observatory and the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) has around five employees, McAteer said.

"They are telecommuting," McAteer said. "There is plenty of work for them."

There are also two to three employees at the post office. The director told ABC-7 he was not told why they were to evacuate, but he doesn't believe it has anything to do with the telescope, used by NMSU astronomy students to research the sun.

"There is no issue with the telescope," McAteer said. "The telescope has never been better."

"I was surprised," said Dr. Jacson Jackiewicz, another professor at NMSU. "I was curious as to what might be happening. I still don't know and I hope it can reopen soon because we have projects going on up there, difference experiments that we're doing."​

Residents of nearby Cloudcroft, New Mexico, also had no idea what was going on this week.

However, Dr. McAteer said he welcomes the public's curiosity about the project.

"Public interest in science is always good," the director said. "I hope every single person in the state wants to go to Sunspot to visit after this. That would be amazing. It is a public resource. It's open to the public. It's paid for by the public."

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