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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:


 

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:

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.