If the place was truly low on staff then this theory may not be so far fetched.
If you pull the list of current NOTAMs for Holloman, normally the tower is part time but is open continuous from 10-sept to 14-sept. Must be busy. As per the NOTAMs they are also doing a lot of construction work at Holloman, heavy construction vehicles all over and wingspan limitations to avoid hitting them.
My guess is the somewhat abandoned research facility will come off lockdown after the 14th.
My understanding of the research facility is its in transition and likely unsecured; once its secured to some minimal level, law enforcement will ignore it when they're doing something "interesting" at Holloman.
Or, when whatever test equipment they're installing at Holloman is covered by an opaque radome, they'll reopen the research facility.
NOTAM = Notice to Airmen, info bulletins about all kinds of things relevant to air traffic (from "this area is off limits temporarily" over "this airport has a broken navigation beacon" to "there's a festival here that's allowed to point lasers at the sky")
EDIT: In the US can be fetched from https://pilotweb.nas.faa.gov/PilotWeb/ – Location HMN is Holloman AFB
One source says they've got THE number one national secret radar lab, what could be hurt by making that public? Another source admits the place is brimming over with test pilots. Another source says they're doing a massive heavy construction project. Another source says this is a period of high optempo for flying despite heavy construction limiting runway operations. A great place to observe the AFB, such as a semi-abandoned observatory, is under temporary lockdown.
Note they're only locking down a great place to park a van full of radio observing gear, not locking down every little hiking trail where you can optically observe the base. Almost as if the AF base were a national secret radar lab; oh wait, it is, per their own public website and historical events.
Individually nothing above is classified or "intel worthy" but in combination if it isn't a week long systems integration test for some kind of anti-aircraft radar experiment, they've gone to great lengths to make it appear in public to be so. And that's the whole OSINT thing in a nutshell.
Comically, if they're not doing this kind of activity, you have to ask why not, since that kind of activity is why that publicly known national radar lab exists in the first place. I mean, if they're not doing what they're funded to do, that in itself is some kind of conspiracy theory.
I suppose the whole thing could be a psyop to determine conspiracy theory susceptibility; have a known, public, radar lab, do radar lab things, and see who freaks out is a valid psyop experiment. Personally I think the HAARP project of the 90s was more of a psyop troll along the lines of the above, than an actual scientific study OR an actual conspiracy theory. Some scientific research did happen, but mostly I think they just wanted to F with Art Bell listeners and see how they respond.
Of course, OSINT can be a diversion up to and including faking the whole thing by releasing a small number of cheap and easy irrelevant press releases and seeing which vans full of electronics equipment driven by foreign nationals sit in parking lots in sight of the base; its entirely possible literally nothing is going on inside the base, its all a counter-intel operation. A honeypot operation. Maybe some foreigner took the bait and drove up to the observatory surrounded by FBI agents with a van full of monitoring equipment, that would be an epic troll of a foreign intel agency, usually they keep that kind of thing quiet and we'll never hear. Possibly locking the place down and closing the post office and getting news coverage including here is a component of the counter-intel honeypot operation, LOL.
OSINT is more of a method of analyzing seemingly unrelated data, than proving any hypothesis. But the OSINT synthesis of the situation boils down to "a known military radar lab appears to be extremely busy doing radar stuff this week".
I used to work in astrophysics. Telescope operators are expected not to look in certain places. Those were fun conversations.
My guess is they found a spy.
In addition to all the NOAA licensing for imaging the ground, you need extra licenses for taking pictures of space. (it's useful, for example, to image the moon as a way of calibrating cameras & telescopes without atmospheric interference, and tracking stars is one of the most reliable ways to determine spacecraft attitude)
One of the requirements is that if we take a picture of space and there's anything moving in the picture (presumably a near-earth satellite), we delete all copies of the picture and forget we ever took it, but only after offering it for sale to the Air Force at a commercially reasonable price.
I'm sure there are additional layers on top of it, that's just the facets of it that I've been exposed to in the mandatory company-wide regulatory training.
That sounds like a business model - what is a commercially reasonable price, and where do I sign up?
Does it? You have one potential customer, and you have to create product on spec, offer it to them at a price you don't control, and destroy the unsold material whether or not the one customer pays for a copy.
Building a viable business model around that without corrupt influence over the single buyer seems impractical.
At the conclusion of the talk, the DOE guys said appreciative things about the current work, but also pointed out that certain avenues of investigation into certain characteristics might lead to the gov't declaring this software classified, and restricting who might have access to it. My friend was at the time not a US citizen, so he would have been locked out of contributing to his own work.
"Nice piece of software you have there, would be a shame if something...happened to it..."
I looked, but could not find that anecdote.
You can hide them. A common practice is to do an orbital maneuver when the satellite is directly between the Sun-Earth line-of-sight, where attempts to use instruments are pretty well saturated/destroyed.
With that said, it is still possible to see where the satellites go after such a boost if you are able to look really close to the limb of the sun with the right kind of equipment :)
Solar observatories need to track the sun, so they use a little mirror (heliostat) at the tunnel entrance that changes angle to track the sun, so you can point it anywhere.
Once the party was informed, and thus had knowledge, of the national defense sensitivity involves, it would seem arguably to facially violate the Espionage Act of 1917, as amended; in particular, 18 USC §§ 793, 795, and, if they attempt to publish the pictures, 797, and/or, if the order originates with NASA, 799.
Photographing and publishing or sending to unauthorized parties foreign or domestic, bet on it. You might get away with a stern visit from one of the 3-letter-agencies if it's minor importance and ignorance, but do it again...
If you doubt it, please do the test and report back the results.
There’s even an active hobbyist community tracking and photographing classified satellites for public message boards: https://www.popsci.com/zuma-spy-satellite-amateur-astronomer....
This isn’t Soviet Russia.
It's one thing for amateurs doing those 'trainspotting' type of activities with commercial- or even professional grade equipment, but another to do it with research-grade telescopes and listening equipment.
Obviously the amateurs are basically unstoppable, and are getting the same level of open information that any foreign agent can get by looking in the open. Nothing new is lost and there is no purpose in chasing the amateurs.
However, we're talking about professional astronomers with both higher-grade knowledge, much higher-grade equipment (and likely operating under at least partial govt funding for the project or equipment), and operating under some regulations and laws. It is silly to expect that being noticed breaking those laws or regs would go un-addressed.
But, as stated above, if you feel differently, feel free to do the actual test and report back your results.
Edit: nice username ;)
Google Maps panoramic view: https://goo.gl/ckkCQc
One thing that stands out to me - based on comments from people who live in the area (and who I am confident actually do), the observatory is transitioning from being owned by the federal government to a university. They've gone through a significant staff reduction, and there was basically no one there to tell to leave. Further, while it's been reported that it's "closed to the public", I've seen cellphone video from people who have driven there and walked around. There are no roadblocks, no visible police or security presence... nothing. It's just abandoned.
In short, I'm not convinced this is being accurately reported.
At this point, I believe that this was a fairly orderly shutdown (temporary or permanent) that wasn't communicated very well. The "FBI" and "Blackhawk helicopter" were probably federal employees removing federal property from the observatory's antenna arrays before handing it over to the university. I suppose it's possible that some of that could have been classified, since it's situated within line of sight of a military base where project testing occurs and it's conceivable that they might have used that site to received telemetry, but I don't see any reason to think that it's anything more than a case of poor communication between agencies and a pile-on by people who aren't familiar with the details and who want to see something that isn't there.
Note that I was one of those people at first - I gave significant thought to the idea that this was some sort of coverup associated with the coronal mass ejection and the ensuing solar storm that happened right at the same time. As time went on, other solar observatories starting going down and I got much more intensely interested. I took a step back though, and did some more looking around. The other observatory that went down first was in Hawaii, where they were experiencing a tropical storm.
I'll keep watching this, but at this point I think it'll just fade away into nothing, as there really is nothing happening there.
I will give a nod to one theorist on another forum who suggested that the cryptic communication, lack of a press conference, and the local sheriff denying knowledge of everything is all intended as an opportunity to study how conspiracy theories are formed, investigated, and disseminated in online forums. I hope that's the case, because I want to read that paper.
Also, it's really common to go overkill for training purposes.
For example, sending two F15s to go sit on the ground at an air show includes them refueling mid-air and intercepting a B52 that's also headed to the same air show so they can check those training boxes.
Sending the Navy seals to fast-rope in to an observatory and recover the federally owned gigabit switches from the telecom closet is the kind of overkill you get in the name of training.
Note, Sac Peak is nowhere near the other solar observatory in Kitt Peak, AZ, and it is a daytime observatory as opposed to the much better-provisioned nighttime observatory at nearby Apache Point, NM - where the relatively-new Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) telescope is.
It was a monastic lifestyle on the mountain there, and as the NSF has been backing out of some of its older ground-based observatories in pursuit of newer observing programs like DKIST (the big solar telescope in Hawaii) and LSST, I imagine it has become even more uncomfortable.
A nighttime solar observatory would have certain... observational challenges.
Seriously? Is this an ARG?
Gorgeous vistas, though. And staggering brushfires.
Huh... TIL: An alternate reality game (ARG) is an interactive networked narrative that uses the real world as a platform and employs transmedia storytelling to deliver a story that may be altered by players' ideas or actions.
Edit: for clarification, HAFB and all of White Sands Missile Range sits on flatlands surrounded by two mountains; the Organ Mountains on the west (close to Las Cruces) and Sunspot Observatory sits on the very edge of the mountain ranges to the east. Spying on HAFB and WSMR from Sunspot is certainly plausible.
A fascinating place to visit.
Most plausible theory I've seen so far is that the spying one. Maybe they were posting hard-drives or USB sticks from there with footage of the base testing some new equipment or something.
As best I can tell, the housing up there only serves employees at the observatory, which is closed. What point would there be to keeping the post office open?
It took 2 years to get a blatant lab shut down on my upper middle-class street. Ex-neighbor's ex-engine mate happened to transfer from FD to our local PD precinct & made detective. He was the only reason the rat nest was disturbed.
Anyone have speculations on what this could be?
(Edit: Ah, there’s a survey form that you have to click “skip” on to see the story. Still hilarious.)
This is pure speculation, but I think this QAnon/whitehouse leaker stuff is driving people mad and in the coming years, we'll see rebel groups forming and doing more of this.
Here's a video of a guy flushing 240# of mercury down a toilet (NOT connected to a sewer or septic system), just to see if it was possible: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GvVaaZ21C44
It's not exactly difficult to find industrial users of mercury, and the mercury at Sunspot is in a sealed instrument. I see no reason why the presence of mercury there would be incentive for an "armed group" to attempt to assault and/or hold the observatory.
Obviously, I'd be sure of that before I handled it :)
See: mad hatters
Might also be politically motivated, but I'm going to bet on personal since this observatory was specifically targeted, and not APO (an ex-grad student who feels their academic career was destroyed by someone there would work as well for me).
Or something that rhymes with that and is much more mundane than Chinese spies or secret military tests (but of course just exceptional enough to get the FBI involved and not the local cops -- so an actual credible bomb maker and not just someone phoning in a threat).
"During this time, we became concerned that a suspect in the investigation potentially posed a threat to the safety of local staff and residents."
The shape of the blur is very strange for anything intentional. Unless the shape itself is extra intentional entropy.
(But seriously, my guess would be some kind of DoD/security thing? Was someone there doing military research and got hacked? Because that would explain why the FBI would lock it down and not let anyone else in law enforcement go near...)