The Sunspot National Observatory, which is run by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA), was evacuated on September 6. AURA says they ordered the evacuation but, oddly, that they also aren't sure when exactly it was vacated.
When it was shut down, the FBI came in but "refused" to tell local authorities "what's going on," Otero County Sheriff Benny House said, adding that the bureau told his department to stand by while they evacuated the building. "Nobody would really elaborate on any of the circumstances as to why. The FBI were up there. What their purpose was, nobody will say."
— Rob Sheridan (@rob_sheridan) September 13, 2018
Eventually, after not perceiving any threats, the sheriff and his people left the scene, Sputnik News reported.
Gizmodo editor Jennings Brown wrote, "This is how it happens when extraterrestrials make contact with Earth."
"It starts with a newspaper report about suspicious activity at a space research facility — government agents and military vehicles. The local sheriff gets angry and confused," he added.
"For the FBI to get involved that quick and be so secretive about it, there was a lot of stuff going on up there," the sheriff added. "There was a Blackhawk helicopter, a bunch of people around antennas and work crews on towers, but nobody would tell us anything."
"It's unfortunate that the local authorities haven't been told what's going on, because this creates fear and fuels conspiracy theories, but the FBI is an inherently secretive organization, and the default position is to say as little as possible when security issues arise," Nick Pope, a freelance journalist who researched UFOs for the British Ministry of Defense from 1985 to 2006 and now does so on his own time, told Sputnik News.
— Charles P. Pierce (@CharlesPPierce) September 12, 2018
He also said that, contrary to many Hollywood portrayals, the FBI's presence actually indicates that the observatory's closure wasn't related to extraterrestrials. "Outside the fictional world of ‘The X-Files,' the FBI isn't really the agency that would be in charge of the UFO/extraterrestrial issue," Pope said. "Government UFO programs tend to be embedded in the military or in the defense ministry, not in law enforcement/counterterrorism agencies."
He added: "Secondly, if the suggestion is that staff at the observatory found something — proof of alien life, perhaps — then shutting down the observatory wouldn't prevent the secret getting out, as there are other observatories that could doubtless duplicate the work and make the same discovery. Thirdly, a solar observatory seems a very unlikely place to make any discovery relating to extraterrestrial life. Any such discovery is much more likely to be made by the Hubble Space Telescope, or any powerful radio telescope."
James McAteer, the director of the observatory, told the media that the "telescope did not see aliens," adding "nothing is hidden or kept secret."
— Dave Canseco (@Dave_Canseco) September 14, 2018