With rumblings of a potential nuclear-missile test in North Korea, intelligence analysts are closely watching for the telltale signs of an impending underground explosion.
After eight weeks of nearly continuous activity at the Punggye-Ri site, where satellite images have shown trucks coming and going, and barrels lined up outside buildings, three volleyball games were apparently played, analysts said Wednesday.
38 North notes that satellite imagery has previously captured games in progress throughout the nation.
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"It suggests that the facility might be going into a standby mode", said Joseph Bermudez, a veteran North Korea analyst, during a conference call organized by the John Hopkins University think tank 38 North, the New York Times reported.
North Korea says it has already conducted five successful nuclear tests - in 2006, 2009, 2013 and in January and September 2016. Although the planes returned empty-handed this time, many experts, including South Korea's own foreign ministry, have long believed there is a high possibility the regime could conduct its sixth nuclear test in April.
"We see that at three locations in the facility - in the main administrative area, at the support area, at the command center and at the guard barracks near the command center - they have volleyball games going on", Joe Bermudez told Reuters.
Images show North Koreans playing volleyball at nuclear test site
The second is that North Korea-knowing that analysts are watching-are trying to trick those analysts into thinking that the site is on standby.
"It doesn't mean anything other than people are there and [that] they are bored", Hanham said in an email to Mashable.
But at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site, in the mountainous wilds of the North, teams of players that Sunday were engaged in a series of volleyball games, according to the image analysts.
Last Thursday, two days before the birthday of the North's late founder Kim Il-sung, 38 North said the North's nuclear test site was "primed and ready" to conduct a nuclear test.
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Or, they say, it could be a "tactical pause" until leader Kim Jong Un gives his orders.