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ALMA Observatory in Chile Halts Operations Following Cyberattack

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Colin Thierry


Colin Thierry

Published on: November 4, 2022

The Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) Observatory in Chile suspended all astronomical observation operations and took its public website offline following a cyberattack last week.

The observatory’s email services are also currently limited, as IT specialists are still working towards restoring the impacted systems.

The organization informed the public about the security incident in a Twitter post on Tuesday. In the post, ALMA Observatory said that at this time, given the nature of the episode, it is impossible to estimate a date for a return to regular operations.

Additionally, the observatory clarified that the attack did not compromise the ALMA antennas or any scientific data, which indicated that there were no signs of unauthorized data access or extraction.

“We cannot further discuss the details as there is an ongoing investigation,” an ALMA Observatory spokesperson told reporters regarding the security incident. “Our IT team was prepared to face the situation and had the proper infrastructure, although there is no flawless defense against hackers.”

“We are still working hard on the full recovery of services. Thanks for your understanding,” the spokesperson added.

ALMA Observatory is made up of 66 high-precision radio telescopes of 12 m diameter arranged in two arrays. It is located at an elevation of 5,000 m (16,400 ft) at the Chajnantor plateau in Chile.

The project cost $1.4 billion, which made it the world’s most expensive ground telescope. It was developed due to a multi-national effort involving the United States, Europe, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Chile.

The observatory is used by scientists of the National Science Foundation, the European Southern Observatory, the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, and other groups from around the world. With this in mind, any halt to its operations significantly impacts multiple science teams and ongoing projects.

In the meantime, users are advised to look out for status updates on the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s (NRAO) website or ALMA Observatory’s social media pages.

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