back to article No, that Sunspot Solar Observatory didn't see aliens. It's far more grim

On September 6, the Sunspot Solar Observatory in New Mexico, USA, was evacuated and sealed off without explanation, sparking wild conspiracy theories as to why. Since it's an observatory, the favorite theory was that it had spotted aliens, and the lockdown was part of a coverup to prevent public panic. No, there weren't any …

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  1. AndyFl
    Alien

    Unconvinced

    You close an entire science facility for several weeks because the Janitor may have been sending child porn?

    This would appear to a bit of an overreaction to say the least[1]! Conspiracy nuts will not be convinced, I am not entirely convinced! So what REALLY happened?

    Andy

    [1] There is never an excuse for child porn, it is a horrendous thing.

    1. usbac

      Re: Unconvinced

      This is America. We seem to lead the world in overreaction. We practically invented it.

      It's what makes terrorism so successful here...

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Unconvinced

        Can't take any chances, should probably shut down all the other telescopes as well

        1. Waseem Alkurdi
          Trollface

          Re: Unconvinced

          And the Internet too.

        2. EarthCitizen

          Re: Unconvinced

          Are you suggesting that all the janitors are potentially abusing the telescopes to look at alien child pron? Wow the mind boggles.

        3. Avatar of They Silver badge

          Re: Unconvinced

          The way Trump is steering his climate advisors, science advisors and tech views. That might not be too far from the truth.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Unconvinced

        'We seem to lead the world in overreaction.'

        Yes, just mention gun control laws...

    2. Shadow Systems Silver badge

      Re: Unconvinced

      You don't shut down the entire facility to deal with one presumeably unarmed & unaware individual. You send in a max of four agents to apprehend him quietly in such a way that the other employees need not even know the take down was/had happened. The janitor won't be suspecting/expecting to be escorted from the property pinned in by four big goons with guns, and even if he's stupid enough to try something, four armed goons can take him down before he can clear a holster. So unless you suspected him of having rigged the place to explode like a terrorist suicide bomber, "protecting the other staff" is as simple as frog marching the guy off the property hemmed in by four big bulls in suits.

      You don't have to be a conspiracy nut to think they're not telling the truth about what happened, you merely have to look at the timeline of publicly available details & note that they not only don't add up, the picture the ThreeLetterAgency tries to make it present leaves a hell of a lot of holes & edges that don't match. If you're already disinclined to believe anything a TLA agent says, this kind of crappy jigsaw puzzle job of hammering unmatched pieces together & claiming they fit perfectly just makes you even MORE incredulous in disbelief.

      1. EarthCitizen

        Re: Unconvinced

        I've seen Men in Black and have seen how innocuous looking janitors can really be Aliens in disguise armed to their alien teeth... 4 puny human agents will be nothing to them.

      2. tfb Silver badge
        Black Helicopters

        Re: Unconvinced

        Yes, you can certainly rely on whoever it was being unarmed and unaware. Because people in America never carry guns and never decide it might be a good idea to kill a bunch of their colleagues. Oh, wait: yes, yes they do, don't they?

      3. StargateSg7 Bronze badge

        Re: Unconvinced

        In the USA, actually you kinda do have to do that becuase people ARE ARMED to the Teeth!

        Anyone can Open Carry in teh US state of New Mexico which means I can carry my 9mm or five of them strapped to my waist for all the see! I can also buy and have 1 or 10 or MORE AR-15's semi-auto rifles as a I see fit! So with people's mental health and in a country where there have been 4 disgruntled worker shootings in 3 days...YEAH! I kinda see why they would shut the facility down from a physical point of view.

        Then you add in the virus and malware that USUALLY accompanies dark web material again that is a HUGE security risk so it all needs to be checked, scanned, cleaned up and tested.

        --

        Alien have been around for thousands of years on Earth. They're Here. There Over There. They're Everywhere. Get Over It!

    3. Youngone Silver badge

      Re: Unconvinced

      What really happened was aliens. Read the article again, that's what it says.

      I'm pretty sure anyway.

      1. LDS Silver badge
        Devil

        "What really happened was aliens"

        I'm quite sure the janitor was an alien who illegally entered the country.

    4. Crazy Operations Guy

      Porbably not just down due to the FBI

      I'm thinking that they shut everything down not to arrest the guy, but to clean up the network and verify that everything is clean. He was on their network, and child porn tends to come paired with more than a few malware nasties (or at least in my experience of cleaning up networks that had been used by pedos to share their materials).

      Two weeks does sound about right for how long it would take for the Feds to take what they need, and for an IT team to come in to quarantine the network, re-image everything that can be re-imaged, and do thorough scans on things that can't, and then replace any equipment that the feds took for their investigation.

      1. Mark 85 Silver badge

        Re: Porbably not just down due to the FBI

        Let's add to that.. they probably had to check out not just the computers but also the employees themselves. Two weeks does sound about right to go through the whole system, etc.

        1. Teiwaz Silver badge

          Re: Porbably not just down due to the FBI

          they probably had to check out not just the computers but also the employees themselves.

          What? The Janitor was the infectious type of 'P' was he.

          Wonder if it's like leprosy? Is there a stage where they can no longer pass it on?

          Or do they become more contagious - and the Feds had to lock-down the area and mind-wipe everyone just in case he gained the ability to beam the sick images into peoples heads as a clever hidden backup???

      2. Trollslayer Silver badge

        Re: Porbably not just down due to the FBI

        That makes sense.

      3. jarfil

        Re: Porbably not just down due to the FBI

        Security conscious pedos don't need to let malware in, it's just media content after all... but then again, you probably won't catch someone who's security conscious, so you're probably right that if you catch them, then they probably got tons of malware too.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Unconvinced

      Yeah, this is crap.

      I once handled an internal investigation into an employee and illegal pr0n. I didn't have to shut down the business. I gathered evidence, followed proper chain-of-custody, contacted law enforcement, and marched that sick bastard right the hell out of the building. Few employees even knew that it had happened until years later.

      This is, of course, the cherry on top of the Conspiracy Nut sundae, coming mere days after an alleged terrorist training camp in NM was destroyed by state authorities before it could be thoroughly investigated by federal authorities. What the hell is going on in that state?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: What the hell is going on in that state?

        Roswell, that's where all the alien pedos are. They landed in 1947 and have only just managed to get internet access which is how they were finally caught. They tried to escape which is why the observatory was shut down. I can't say anymore due to the van parked near my house. I fear I know too much. If anything happens to me can someone look after snuggles my cat, he's house trained and doesn't bother with the wearing of tin foil.

        1. Jack of Shadows Silver badge

          Re: What the hell is going on in that state?

          Given Rule 34, there's sure to be alien pedo out there somewhere. I'm out of mindbleach, otherwise I'd go search for it.

          1. Danny 2 Silver badge

            Re: What the hell is going on in that state?

            Alien Paedo? A.P. befriends a young boy and his even younger siblings by mirroring his movements, convinces him the share a psychic connection, leaves him to wake up alone in a field with vague memories of a glowing finger while A.P fled from the FBI. Spielberg made a documentary of it in the '80s.

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Unconvinced

      "You close an entire science facility for several weeks because the Janitor may have been sending child porn?"

      It does seem somewhat fishy. But...

      According to the official statement on the closure <http://aura-astronomy.org/news/news.asp?newsID=389>:

      "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."

      and

      "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. "

      So how about: the observatory management didn't get told much by the FBI, but did get told that the FBI were worried about something, so they decided that the best idea was just to send people away for an unscheduled holiday. What with the observatory being in the USA, it's reasonable to assume that the janitor might well have possessed firearms - and maybe the FBI had found he was looking up stuff about bombs or somesuch as well as dealing in child sex abuse images.

      1. LDS Silver badge

        In other news: "Developer goes rogue, shoots four colleagues"

        https://www.theregister.co.uk/2018/09/20/developer_work_shooting/

        That's US, you have to be careful about your colleagues and the janitors too...

    7. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

      Re: Unconvinced

      I am not convinced safety was the real reason with what we know so far. True it is a remote location and the scumbag obviously had access to the wifi system. But downloading child porn does not automatically mean he is a violent felon or even owns a gun. Securing the logs would only require the cooperation of the sys admins and arresting scumbag can be done in way that catches him unawares (as noted by another poster).

      I wonder if the child porn charges were an accidental discovery during another cyber investigation and it is now being used as a cover. There are plenty of terrestrial reasons for a possible investigation were they want the facility shut down for a few days.

    8. DougS Silver badge

      The Register's link doesn't have the whole story

      The stories I saw elsewhere said the guy made "veiled threats" against the facility, so if he suggested that maybe he was going to "blow the place the up" they would want to close it down to look for bombs. A janitor would have access to every nook and cranny, so they'd have to be pretty thorough.

      They'd also probably want to make sure he didn't do anything that could potentially compromise the data being collected, as years of research could be ruined if that happens. Closing the facility so they can look for bombs, then once that's done check the integrity of data and verify he hasn't left behind any malware or other software nasties seems a wise precaution.

      The one thing that doesn't make sense is why not just say that up front when it was closed? Was the janitor not arrested yet and they didn't want to alert him (if I was doing something that illegal I'd assume if the place I worked at unexpectedly closed they were on to me...)

      For those who think this is all a cover story, why would they wait so long to come up with such a bland cover story? They could have made this up an hour after the facility was shut down. If their goal was to allay suspicion for whatever alien conspiracy they wanted to cover up, waiting so long to explain the cover story certainly didn't help!

      1. onefang Silver badge
        Black Helicopters

        Re: The Register's link doesn't have the whole story

        "If their goal was to allay suspicion for whatever alien conspiracy they wanted to cover up, waiting so long to explain the cover story certainly didn't help!"

        Ah, but if you wait that long, lots of conspiracy theories will popup all by themselves. Then the real one can easily hide in all the noise.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The Register's link doesn't have the whole story

        '..For those who think this is all a cover story, why would they wait so long to come up with such a bland cover story?

        Long? it took them 47 years to come up with the Roswell Report, and as for bland cover story, they do have form you know...

        Two words: Weather Balloon (Another two words: Marsh Gas)

    9. kain preacher Silver badge

      Re: Unconvinced

      On top of that they did not tell the local police why

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Unconvinced

        The FBI is notorious for not working with local law enforcement. It's even a trope in the entertainment industry.

        1. DougS Silver badge

          It makes sense they didn't alert the local cops

          This is a VERY small town, what if the janitor was friends with one of the local cops and was tipped off? Its a different matter in a big city, the chances of a random janitor happening to know someone on the police force who is involved with the FBI on a particular case are tiny. But the FBI still might not want to take the risk.

    10. tfb Silver badge

      Re: Unconvinced

      What really happened was probably: they knew someone at the place was downloading something nasty using its internet connection. But they didn't know who: they just knew it was coming from an address in the place, and they certainly did not know enough to nick whoever it as. So they closed it down and sent everyone home. Now they can (a) quietly pore over the machines there to try and work out who it was, and (b) keep watching for the same patterns, this time coming from someone's private address.

      But of course it wasn't that, it was aliens, or possibly liberals: liberal aliens?

    11. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Unconvinced

      You comment appears to indicate your Nuts..... The universe waited billions of years for mankind to watch it. I'm sure it can take a few days off.

    12. alain williams Silver badge

      Re: Unconvinced

      You close an entire science facility for several weeks because the Janitor may have been sending child porn?

      Maybe the janitor was using the facility to take pictures of his naked sun :-)

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    No, they didn't see aliens

    ...but the sunspot observatory did see places the sun "shouldn't shine".

    =P

    (ok, enough of the sick humor).

  3. frank ly Silver badge

    Wrong way around?

    "The statement added that the small number of staff at the remote location made protection difficult."

    So, if there had been only one person at the remote location, it would have been very difficult. If there had been no staff there, it would have been impossible to protect them?

    1. Joe W

      Re: Wrong way around?

      Yes, like the Lohschmitt-numbers (homeopathy). The less stuff is in there (higher dilution) the more potent the brew is. That's why I drink gin. Get less drunk than from drinking water...

    2. tfb Silver badge

      Re: Wrong way around?

      No, the difficulty of protecting people from other people is not some trivial monotonic function of the number of people you have, if the number is small. When it's one, then there is no difficulty. You can't have a total of two people, because one of them must be the protecting person who then serves no purpose. With two people you need a third protecting person which is very expensive, or you take a risk. Up from there the cost comes down and tends to some fixed proportion (n protecting people per m people being protected), but since you can't supply partial people it comes down rather jerkily and perhaps quite slowly (if you need one person per 20, say, but you only have five people, you're paying way over the odds and may decide not to have anyone at all, meaning there is no protection). So yes, small numbers of people are hard to protect, where 'small numbers' means 'more than one'.

  4. Daedalus Silver badge

    The surprising thing is....

    ...that a janitor was able to do all that stuff on the Internet, considering that CEO's and HR droids, all the way down to junior VP's of furniture arrangement, seem to have trouble understanding basic concepts like "needs electricity" and "has to be connected to something". And passwords. Oh yeah, passwords.

    Betcha the janitor was a former techie in another country who couldn't get a job worthy of his skills here.

    "In Russia I am professor of theoretical physics. In America I am janitor" - The Big Bang Theory.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: The surprising thing is....

      >that a janitor was able to do all that stuff on the Internet

      It's a university observatory.

      Observatories tend not to have strict levels of network access security - cos the universe is pretty public.

      It's hard enough getting some staff to use decent passwords = "None of my stuff is secret - I don't care who reads it, why do I need a password?"

    2. JohnFen Silver badge

      Re: The surprising thing is....

      "Betcha the janitor was a former techie in another country who couldn't get a job worthy of his skills here."

      That's a rather fascinating leap in logic. There are plenty of native-born skilled techies working as "unskilled" laborers. Why assume this guy isn't American?

      1. Daedalus Silver badge

        Re: The surprising thing is....

        Well, how else could I set up the BBT reference?

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The surprising thing is....

        I know of at least a couple of School Keepers (janitor) who also do the school's routine tech support. (I also know of a couple on the opposite extreme and wouldn't trust them with a step ladder and a light bulb)

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The surprising thing is....

        'That's a rather fascinating leap in logic.'

        Not really, there was a cleaner from 'forn parts' at the Clarendon lab who'd a physics degree (manglement didn't know that, though)..

        'No one notices a sweeper...'

        In London back in the early-mid 90's I could point you to highly intelligent N_g_r__n scammers who obtained work as cleaners in the DSS and local council offices, their fiddly benefit fraud schemes to perform...

        again, no one notices a sweeper...

        Same time period, same city, different location. We had our cleaning services 'outsourced', cue the endless stream of strange faces around the labs at night, cue the start of a spate of strangely but accurately targeted computer thefts (though, as security was outsourced at the same time, there was always a bit of doubt..)

        again, no one notices a sweeper...apart from paranoid bastards like me

        IndyCams were fun, as the machines were on 24/7 - thanks, PVM, it would have been seriously remiss of me not to press them into service.

        Why yes, we did find a whole stash of pilfered high value computer bits in a cleaners storage area..

  5. Cavehomme_ Bronze badge

    Jackanory

    Yeah, right, pull the other one.

    A pedo is repulsive, but EVACUATING the WHOLE facility, choppers (of the aerial kind) flying in, houses evacuated, Post Office closed down...all for TWO fucking weeks!?

    That, and half a dozen other similar telescopes around the globe taken offline the the same day.

    Where's Bombastic Bob when we really need him?

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: Jackanory

      That, and half a dozen other similar telescopes around the globe taken offline the the same day.

      Citation needed. Next up: UN World Government.

    2. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: Jackanory

      Where's Bombastic Bob when we really need him?

      Don't you mean Alex Jones?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Don't you mean Alex Jones?

        No, Bob hasn't been deplatformed by the Silicon Valley mafia. Yet.

    3. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Jackanory

      Where's Bombastic Bob when we really need him?

      Blaming the Democrats for this?????

    4. Blank Reg

      Re: Jackanory

      I've not seen anything about other solar observatories going offline, but it would make sense.

      These kinds of facilities tend to share a lot of information with each other, so if they were afraid that the network had been compromised then there would be a chance that other collaborating facilities may also have been compromised.

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