Amongst all the hype over the past couple of weeks about the closure of the National Solar Observatory in Sunspot, New Mexico, has been a persistent rumour – one that takes the story from simply being ‘mysterious’ to downright conspiratorial: that not only had that observatory been evacuated, but that there had been other space and solar observatories shut down at the same time.
The suggestion, of course, was that these observatories were being stopped from observing some ground-breaking celestial event: alien space ships, a civilization-ending solar event, or Planet X revealing itself.
This rumour about multiple observatories being shut down was spread far and wide by popular ‘news’ websites (I use the phrase with a wince) such as Zero Hedge and the UK’s Express – I’m not going to link, because stupid clickbait doesn’t deserve it.
But this is the claim that has been spread far and wide:
Just in case you were blowing off the tin-foil-hat views of the observatory closure, we note that all these solar/space cams down at the same time:
- AXIS 232D Network Dome Camera located in Sydney Australia
- Webcams located at SOAR Observatory – The Southern Astrophysical Research Telescope located in Chile
- BRT Tenerife Telescope Webcam located in Spain
- Webcam located at Mauna Kea observatory at the University of Hawaii Hilo
- Webcam from the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope observatory in Hawaii
- Webcam at JAT OBservatory in Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania
Now, I’m going to quickly run through why this claim is absolute crap, and do it with minimal effort, because we all have finite lives and who really wants to spend time debunking awful things like this?
Our tool? The Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, which lets us view pages from websites archived at specific times. Using this, we find that:
- The SOAR telescope link has been a 301 redirect to a new website for more than two years previous to this ‘outage’. Here’s the new link.
- The BRT Tenerife telescope webcam’s most recent snapshot was in 2017, but was working then – but it’s not even a sky camera, it’s just a webcam showing the telescope facility. And if you go to the webcam part of their site, you’ll find a link to a new webcam of the facility, along with a functioning ‘all sky cam’.
- The Maunakea telescope webcam broke in June 2017 and has shown the same image since then, along with an error message. Furthermore: like the one above, it’s not a sky camera, it’s just a webcam showing the telescope facility.
- The Canada-France-Hawaii Observatory appears to have broken on Nov 1st 2017, with snapshots taken earlier this year all showing a picture taken at that time.
- The JAT Observatory webcam is offline because the domain expired sometime before May 31 this year, as this snapshot from that date shows.
So, were all these space observatories shut down around the world at the same time? No, it’s just a collection of broken webcam links…and yet it spread across the globe and made headlines in major outlets because (a) websites will use any nonsense clickbait they can find to get your eyeballs, and thus advertising dollars, and (b) plenty of people consume this sort of thing without stopping to think “well that doesn’t sound likely” and then checking it properly, rather than quickly posting it to social media where it spreads further.
Let’s all try and do better folks, there’s plenty of worthwhile mysteries out there that deserve our time and attention more than this.