back to article New MeX-Files: The curious case of an evacuated US solar lab, the FBI – and bananas conspiracy theories

The mysterious shutdown and evacuation of a solar research laboratory, tucked away in a forest in New Mexico, USA, has sent the internet abuzz with a flurry of conspiracy theories. The Sunspot Solar Observatory (SSO), located in the Sacramento Mountains, was switched off earlier this month, and staff ordered to leave. The FBI …

  1. onefang Silver badge

    If it was solar flares, you'd think we would have noticed after a week.

    I, for one, welcome our new spotty faced sun overlords.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    There's an obvious explanation to all this,

    Here's some drone footage of it closed,

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z7-Md5af9_4

    They also shut down the local post office,

    https://www.kvia.com/news/new-mexico/national-solar-observatory-usps-office-in-sunspot-nm-evacuated-for-safety-reasons-/792020771

    So If I was to hazard a guess I would say Aliens have sent something in the post. Simple logic saves the day.

    1. ee_cc

      Usual American drama

      I guess some conspiracy nutjob who also moonlighting as mail bomber must have accodentally sent the wrong package to the wrong address... time to clean up the shed Joey.

      1. DougS Silver badge
        Alien

        Re: Usual American drama

        I guess some conspiracy nutjob who also moonlighting as mail bomber

        That's what they want you to believe. They only closed the post office to make something nasty sent through the mail seem like a plausible reason for shutting down the lab.

        When the solar observatory accidentally took a picture of the alien spacecraft, their leader on Earth had to act immediately, but fortunately he's dictator of the largest country on Earth and recently managed have a stooge installed as president of the United States. He can't afford to be discovered until his plan - in collusion cooperation with his stooge - to destroy America from within and throw the world into chaos is complete so the invasion can begin. I'll bet he can't help but laugh to himself over the irony of his stooge's tirades against illegal aliens. He even gave him the MAGA phrase, but he knows it really stands for Make Aliens Great Again!

        I should watch it, I think QAnon started as a joke, too...someone somewhere is going to believe this shit!

      2. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
        Alien

        Re: Usual American drama

        Alienthrax: Anthrax with Alien DNA.

        Meanwhile, Mulder has been spotted in Salisbury.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      A plausible scenario was that a small quantity of mercury was delivered by post for some maintenance work on the telescope mercury bearings. The package arrived with the container broken causing mild concern about the toxic mercury vapour and prompting an evacuation as a precaution till is was cleaned up and vented. The FBI was called as in the norm when toxic hazards arrive in the post.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Yawn

      My money is on the whole thing is due to someone finding some old sample of radioactive or toxic material in the basement left & forgotten from some long ago experiment that occurred in the 1950's. Maybe it got spilled as well.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The solar telescope floats upon a huge mercury bearing. Tens of gallons of the stuff.

    Probably related to that.

    1. DougS Silver badge

      There are plenty of 'isolated' spaces that float on mercury, and while it is poisonous it is hardly a major public threat or difficult for the average person to acquire.

      1. Symon Silver badge
        Coat

        " it is hardly ... difficult for the average person to acquire"

        Where do you get it from? Mars? From the invisible man? No:-

        H.G. Wells.

        p.s. Interestingly, the Sun is quite quiet at the moment. See for yourself.

        https://sohowww.nascom.nasa.gov/data/realtime/c3/512/

        Have a guess what that bright dot on the right is! Here's a clue.

        https://www.fourmilab.ch/cgi-bin/Solar

        Coincidence? I think not.

        1. BigSLitleP
          Pint

          "H.G. Wells"

          A pint for you sir and well deserved!

    2. Spherical Cow

      A well engineered mercury bearing only needs a surprisingly small amount of mercury. Even if it is quite large, you only need a tiny gap between the outer bowl and the thing floating in the bowl. When visiting lighthouses I've been surprised at how little mercury they use to float their lenses.

  4. IslandPlaya

    It's dues to the tens of gallons of toxic mercury used for the solar telescope's large float bearing.

    1. DougS Silver badge

      Because this is the only place in the US that has a lot of mercury in one place? Hardly. Hell, my high school science teacher had a big flask filled with the stuff. I'll bet a lot of older high schools have pounds of mercury sitting in a forgotten closet somewhere.

      If you want some, and live in the US, buy it by the half pound and they'll ship it to your house:

      https://www.sciencecompany.com/Mercury-Metal-quicksilver-3X-Distilled-12lb-P16388.aspx

    2. DropBear Silver badge
      WTF?

      You're kidding, right? Cody of YouTube fame has literally bucketfuls of the stuff, enough to float a full-size anvil on (which he did...) - and I don't remember any MiBs closing him down...

      1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

        But Cody's mercury wasn't turning red. And liberals fulminating against the new solar minima demanded the FBI close the centre until their climate jolly in SF was complete. One didn't get the memo and took a more literal and liberal approach to fulminate. It's a sensitive matter, said the FBI.

    3. StargateSg7 Bronze badge

      I always WONDERED why they used Mercury bearings when modern silicone oils (non-conductive) or something like Mobil SHC 527 Series hydraulic oil that resists high temperatures and high pressures can be bought by the barrel at a much reduced environmental cost versus Mercury!

      Try the Mobil SHC 527 stuff for better safety and high-performance in your astrometric products!

      https://www.mobil.com/en/industrial/Lubricants/Products/Mobil-SHC-527

      You can also use MAGNETIC BEARINGS or FERRO-FLUID for damping purposes which Cadillac does for their MagneRide shocks on their high end CTS-V sports cars!

      1. cray74

        I always WONDERED why they used Mercury bearings

        Maybe because the tiny group of engineers and specialists who build astronomical instruments are familiar with mercury, not the alternatives.

        My division of an aerospace company loves metals, and it likes generous mid-range alloys like 6061 aluminum and precipitation hardened stainless steels (17-4, 15-5, etc.) When we recently needed a stronger, more fatigue-resistant aluminum alloy that led us to pick from the 7000 series, we had to learn partly by trial and error how to deal with its its forging, heat treating, and repair/rework behavior. It's been an expensive learning process figuring out an aerospace industry workhorse alloy because no one on the project has worked with it before.

        If it hadn't been for a customer both willing to fund our learning curve and remain unyielding on over-the-top safety margins, we'd be back to 6061 in a heart beat.

        So I can completely imagine some instrument maker faced with the tight budget of a grant-funded astronomy lab sticking to old, tried-and-true mercury solutions rather than trying to research and master replacement materials.

        1. DougS Silver badge

          What environmental costs for mercury?

          It isn't like the mercury used to float instruments / rooms / etc. leaks out into the environment, or is difficult to capture down the road when the facility is demo'ed.

          Besides, if you want to worry about mercury getting into the environment you first need to shut down all coal burning power plants operating in the region, and clean up every fly ash dump. Before those are taken care of, worrying about "environment costs" from using mercury to float a telescope is ludicrous!

  5. VikiAi Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    They will be closed until the scientists support the theory that the sun shines out of the US President.

    1. john.jones.name

      china... its all about china

      energy from the sun you say... I think we want those blueprints, just post them to us...

      1. Andy The Hat Silver badge

        Re: china... its all about china

        Not China, just some arch villain generating limitless power with diamond encrusted panels. It must be true, I saw a 90minute documentary about it ... someone called Bond was heavily involved ...

    2. LDS Silver badge
      Joke

      Shutting down a solar observatory is just part of the plan to make coal great again.

    3. Fatman Silver badge
      Joke

      You left out a few words...

      <quote>They will be closed until the scientists support the theory that the sun shines out of the US President's ass.</quote>

      There!!!

      FTFY

      1. James O'Shea Silver badge

        Re: You left out a few words...

        If that were true, we'd be in darkness, as Mike Pence's head would be in the way.

        1. DougS Silver badge

          Re: You left out a few words...

          If that were true, we'd be in darkness, as Mike Pence's head would be in the way.

          How could Pence's head possibly fit in there, when Trump's own head was there first? And Trump has a big head, the biggest head there is...just ask him!

      2. Ragarath

        Re: You left out a few words...

        <quote>They will be closed until the scientists support the theory that the sun shines out of the US President's ass.</quote>

        There!!!

        FTFY

        Come on, the president doesn't have a donkey... does he?

        Were on a UK site arse is more appropriate.

        1. Neoc

          Re: You left out a few words...

          "We're"

  6. Chris G Silver badge

    I can reveal

    It's aliens, they are invading us as we speak. I have been fighting them for weeks, they are very small, their craft look like mosquitoes. I have been using a tennis racket to kill them but they keep sending more.

    Bug spray helps to clog their engine intakes after a while they crash. They tried to talk to me by tellypathy I could hear tiny voicesin my head but I ignore them and kill them anyway.Don't be fooled if you see a mosquito it's an alien kill it.My cat told me they are from another galaxy where they have no food.

    1. Dan Wilkie

      Re: I can reveal

      I knew it, all hail our feline saviours, for they alone know the truth!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I can reveal

        "...our feline saviours..."

        All your solar observatory are belong to us.

    2. onefang Silver badge

      Re: I can reveal

      "I have been using a tennis racket to kill them but they keep sending more.

      Bug spray helps to clog their engine intakes after a while they crash."

      I've always said physics works better than chemistry for killing bug.. er I mean aliens. Hit 'em with a shoe, the tennis racket technique is full of large holes. Their chemists will eventually concoct an antidote to the bug spray.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I can reveal

      I believe, this makes my case for the Foo Fighters being not just a rock band but their having an actual mission of save us from the alien threat of a Foo invasion with a solid wall of sound (a shout out to Elton John there). We owe the Foo Fighters more than we know!

  7. Alister Silver badge

    Alright, Beatrice, there was no alien.

    The flash of light you saw in the sky was not a UFO.

    Swamp gas from a weather balloon was trapped in a thermal pocket, and refracted the light from Venus.

  8. rhcp

    Simple,

    They have discovered proof that Trump is not an alien after all.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I think that'd be more frightening than finding proof that he is an alien.

    2. Mystic Megabyte Silver badge
      Devil

      Proof

      A reliable source told me that Trump was born on Uranus. That's why he a total arsehole!

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
        Pint

        Re: Proof

        I love the partisanship whenever Trump is insulted and the downvotes accrue. FFS people, get a sense of humour. He's only a politician (and newly minted at that), not the saviour of the human race. It's alight to insult or laugh at pols, even if you support them.

        Have a pint and calm down

        1. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

          Re: Proof

          I downvoted because the joke was obvious and unfunny. I'm not his biggest fan, but OMG TRUMP! doesn't make something funny or interesting.

  9. Gobhicks
    Black Helicopters

    The Lord is Coming Soon

    Helio-phenomena encode communications from the cosmic unconsciousness. Someone at the facility has cracked the code and the Feds have stepped in. Simples.

    1. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: The Lord is Coming Soon

      I AM ALREADY HERE!!

      I will be at the The World's End Pub tonight.

      Please bring all requests in a plain envelope containing the request and an item of value ( gold or gems)

      Be early! Time is short!

  10. Rich 11 Silver badge

    AURA get your ears on

    AURA is the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, not some kind of shadowy military outfit.

    How can you be sure, huh? HOW CAN YOU BE SURE?!

    1. maffski

      Re: AURA get your ears on

      AURA is the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, not some kind of shadowy military outfit.

      How can you be sure, huh? HOW CAN YOU BE SURE?!

      Because they study the sun. And you can't do that from a shadow can you? Obvious when you think about it.

      1. 's water music Silver badge

        Re: Shadowy outfits

        Because they study the sun. And you can't do that from a shadow can you? Obvious when you think about it.

        Hard to study the sun without casting some shadows though. That's pretty much the definition of shadowy isn't it?

  11. Fading Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    FBI?

    So given the list of things the FBI is primarily responsible for investigating:

    Terrorism, Counter intelligence, Cyber crime, Public Corruption, Civil Rights, Organised Crime, White-collar crime, violent crime and WMDs then it seems fairly obvious why this site was shutdown.

    Obviously this wasn't an "observatory" at all but a Solar collector weapon of mass destruction (possibly the work of the reverse vampires hired by the Rand corporation in conjunction with the saucer people)...

    We are through the looking glass people.....

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: FBI?

      "saucer people", you mean like the ones out of Beauty and the Beast?

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Either a Stranger Things type inter-dimensional portal Hawkins incident or the beginnings of Resident Evil.

    1. Flakk Silver badge

      I'm betting on Red Lectroid activity. I've checked the Banzai Institute's Twitter feed. It seems that they're investigating.

  13. WonkoTheSane
    Alien

    Location! Location! Location!

    White Sands missile range to the Southwest, Roswell to the Northeast!

  14. BoldMan

    They've obviously found the sixth infinity stone...

  15. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

    Maybe they just got bored

    I have been observing the sun for years, and I have rarely seen the sun so quiet, even in Hydrogen alpha light. There were some nice prominences visible on the north-eastern limb yesterday, but otherwise all was quiet. in white light, it is just a dull disk, as my most recent solar image in white light shows. Things are little better in Calcium-K light.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Follow the money

    I suspect it's something much more mundane, like someone running an unauthorized cryptocoin mining farm at the facility. Or there were some discrepancies in the budget which were traced to the observatory.

    If it were aliens or state conspiracy I would expect military or NSA involvement. If the FBI is involved and there are no dead bodies and little local law enforcement involved, then it is probably money related.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Follow the money

      >If it were aliens or state conspiracy I would expect military or NSA involvement.

      That's what they want you to think.

      What if the FBI is really just a front for the Milk Marketing Board ?

  17. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    The real question is .....

    Why isn't 4 days amanfromMars 1 commenting ?

  18. Alistair Silver badge
    Windows

    perhaps a massive TOR exit point and the FBI are there to check the logs?

  19. Gene Cash Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    Simple explanation

    > The National Solar Observatory's site enjoys a wide and largely unobstructed view of both the U.S. Air Force's Holloman Air Force Base and the U.S. Army's White Sands Missile Range, both of which regularly host a very wide array of U.S. military research and development programs.

    http://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/23582/mysterious-evacuation-of-solar-observatory-overlooking-white-sands-smells-like-espionage

    Holloman & WSMR do a LOT of extremely sensitive stuff.

    1. Triple-J

      Re: Simple explanation

      But Apache Point Observatory and the other scopes a mile away are still open. And no one's been evacuated from the site, even though it's so close to the solar observatory. They also have an excellent view of WSMR and Holloman. For that matter, the "super scary helicopters" are pretty much normal for the area. I've seen lots of cool aircraft zooming by when I've been at APO.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    三体

    Oh my, sorry dears, I was off doing something important. Yes, China. Yes, Aliens. Yes, imminent invasion and destruction (on a cosmic time scale anyway).

    A small variation on 三体 - The Three Body Problem. The observatory noticed someone signalling the aliens.

    You need to get out more and read world literature, for better perspective. And read more SciFi. It's all explained therein.

    1. james 68

      Re: 三体

      The kanji "三体" means "3 body" in JAPANESE, now sure kanji has a Chinese origin and therefore the same characters do have a Chinese meaning, "Trisomy" which is a chromosome disorder related to the development of down syndrome. Japanese and Chinese translations of characters are NOT equivalent.

  21. GreenBit

    light unfathomably ancient

    It was Jenkins that first noticed them, impossible though they were, there on the surface of the sun - a cluster of geometric shapes beyond description, angular, faceted, rust coloured .. structures, they could be nothing else. For even as monumental towers of white hot plasma shifted, planet sized beside them, shunting energies sufficient to fry entire worlds down around them, there stubbornly they remained. That anything so solid should appear in that hell-scape held the lot of us spell bound for three days. No one wanted to leave, though on the second sleepless day, Davis's sister phoned to inquire if everything was quite all right. He put her off with a promise to send her the "most remarkable photograph anyone had ever seen". He would have done so the next day but that was when all reason was abandoned.

    It had been standard practice to project the stellar image at times i upon a great round white table, 8 feet across, the better to observe fine detail with un-aided eye. At this point we had exhausted our limited supply of actual food and would have had to send someone into town that day anyway for provisions, and so were subsisting on liberal doses of black coffee. Though it was not customary, we had taken to parking our mugs on the projection table while staring transfixed at the structures there on the sun. That three of us should have been mesmerised by this scene should have beena clue perhaps. Finally Davis declared "enough" and, without further ado threw the switch to turn on the room lights. The span of a breath later, Jenkins made a stifled choking gasp, bolted up knocking over a mug in the process and ran out. Then i saw it, there in my own cup, on the surface of the black liquid, in miniature, that same geometry. And on the table, in the flat light of the projection, a third dimension slowly rising in the spilt coffee, impossible angles, a structure, and as one stared into it, yes of course,a passage of some kind..

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    RE. Re. aliens

    Last I heard, Lietenant Expendable miscalculated the approach and they got a *very* clear shot of the NCC-1701 coming back around the Sun after their slingshot.

    Fortunately because of the angle wrt Earth few if any people saw it.

    The good news is that not half an hour later he "accidentally" got ejected into space while cleaning the plasma manifolds with a Q-tip (tm)

    Either that or they saw the "Gotterdammerung" doing a flight test picking up some solar protons on the way, and harvesting the anti-matter and helium-3.

    What was that film called where someone built a flying sphere in their shed using parts from a junkyard and what looked a bit like an Apple-2 ? also recall something about a faster than light drive.

    1. Ian Emery Silver badge

      Re: RE. Re. aliens

      Wallace and Gromits Grand Day Out??

    2. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

      Re: RE. Re. aliens

      Explorers?

      https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0089114/

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: RE. Re. aliens

        Yup. I think they ended up using a car battery as a power source in the end because the size of the "bubble" turned out to be dependent on input voltage.

        Interestingly it was said a few years back that someone vanished in mysterious circumstances after building and testing a device they found the plans for in an ancient handwritten folder in a library round here. The story told of a strange high pitched whining noise and a lot of radio/TV interference followed by random windows cracking for miles around. The authorities turned up and found "something strange" in an abandoned greenhouse roughly central to the effect and thats the last we heard of it at least officially because it all got hushed up.

        Perhaps the movie was based on elements of real life incidents?

        My own experiments suggest that there may be ways to generate a field but not using a car battery, you'd need a reliable source of positrons and a containment field with about the same strength as a medical MR scanner most likely using superconducting coils plus a few other parts you "can't just buy at Radio Shack"... and some LN2 or at the very least dry ice/NPS assuming the coils can be made to superconduct at more than 221K somehow or perhaps using tuned IR lasers aimed at the coils to keep them superconducting with only moderate cooling?

        Liquid helium is... problematical.

  23. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    Conspiracy Theorists

    Funny how they always assume that only their own country is capable of spotting $whatever and so their own TLAs can easily cover it up. Or that every other government in the world will also cover it up if their people see/find $whatever. Or there's a shadowy world government that's really in charge.

    The reality, obviously, is that there are other solar observatories completely independent of the US systems and they have announced the impending doom of the human race. Only the US citizenry is unaware of it. The rest of us are rampage, pillaging and looting. it's all a plan to piss off the survivalists. They're missing out out on their life's dream event.

    1. Spazturtle Silver badge

      Re: Conspiracy Theorists

      That's not really true, schizophrenics all over the world have delusions about the CIA and FBI being after them or involved in some conspiracy. The CIA and FBI have nice and easy sounding names, and the US exports a lot of culture in the forms of TV shows, Movies ,ect which makes these ideas prevalent globally.

  24. David Roberts Silver badge
    Trollface

    Security incident

    (1) Biosecurity - anything from mercury poisoning to a TexMex chilli aftermath.

    (2) IT security - anything from crypto currency mining to a virus infection

    (3) Physical security - still trying to work out why they accredited the credentials of a Sun reporter

  25. itzman

    Ive always felt that if I was running a conspiracy...

    I'd hide it in a bevy of alternative conspiracy theories.

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