The Slatest

FBI: New Mexico Observatory Closed Because of Child Porn Investigation, Not Aliens

A tree branch foregrounds an out-of-focus shot of the Richard B. Dunn Solar Telescope.
Sunspot Solar Observatory Consortium

When the National Solar Observatory in Sunspot, New Mexico, was evacuated and remained closed mysteriously for 10 days in September, many amateur investigators could think of but one answer: aliens.

After all, the observatory, deep within Lincoln National Forest, is just two hours from Roswell. The curious who attempted to visit the observatory came up against a guarded entrance taped off with crime-scene tape. And federal authorities did little to quell the speculation, remaining so silent on the matter that local law enforcement had no idea what was going on.

But now, the theorists have some fairly disappointing answers, if they’re willing to accept them. In newly released FBI records, including a search warrant affidavit, an agent explained she was investigating someone who had been using the observatory’s Wi-Fi to download and distribute child pornography.

The man under investigation was a janitor, who, according to the affidavit, was the only person who had access to the observatory during the time the laptop was downloading the pornography. The janitor has not yet been arrested or charged with a crime.

After the FBI traced child pornography to the observatory, the chief observer at the facility told the FBI he had found a laptop containing the porn and running in relatively hidden locations around the facility. The FBI seized the laptop, and not long afterward the janitor was spotted leaving the office where the laptop had been found, according to the documents. He asked the chief observer if anyone else had been in the office, explaining that cleaning supplies he left were missing. He later claimed “someone had been entering the Observatory at night, in order to steal the wireless Internet service,” according to the Washington Post.

It was not the FBI, however, that decided to evacuate the observatory. That direction came from the observatory’s management, which became worried that the janitor—acting increasingly agitated since the FBI seized the laptop—might become dangerous. According to the Post:

Aside from continuing to “feverishly” search the facility, the documents state that the janitor said, “it was only a matter of time before the facility ‘got hit,’” and that he “believed there was a serial killer in the area, and that he was fearful that the killer might enter the facility and execute someone.”

An FBI spokesman told Reuters that the investigation is still ongoing. The observatory reopened on Monday, and conspiracy theorists will presumably continue to search for alternative answers.