The Mysterious Evacuation of Sunspot Observatory
A year ago today, the FBI suddenly shut down a remote mountaintop observatory with no explanation. The internet went wild with theories.
Illustrations by Jackson Epstein | Edited by Brendan Spiegel
About 15 miles outside of Alamogordo, New Mexico, among deep canyons and dense forests, a tiny white object can be seen above the trees at the crest of the Sacramento Mountains. This is the Dunn Solar Telescope of the Sunspot Solar Observatory (SSO), a facility dedicated to studying the Sun. At the observatory and in the tiny self-contained village of Sunspot, populated by SSO researchers and employees, people ordinarily go about their business with little fanfare. But on Thursday, September 6, 2018, the attention of what seemed like the entire galaxy was focused here.
Dr. James McAteer, the facility’s director, gave the order to round up the approximately two-dozen people at the site and take them down the mountain at the behest of the FBI. Soon, serious-looking agents arrived in unmarked vehicles and quickly spread out across the area. No information was given to those being evacuated about what was going on; they were simpl…