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Hawaii's Gemini North Observatory Suspended After Cyberattack

It is unclear who the threat actors were or what kind of cyberattack was attempted on the observatory, but for now it, and a sister site in Chile, remain closed to the skies.

The National Science Foundation's (NSF) National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory (NOIRLab), which is the US center for ground-based optical-infrared astronomy, detected an attempted cyberattack on its computer systems. The incident required the lab to suspend its observations at Gemini North, which is located in Hawaii.

The NOIRLab cybersecurity team acted quickly and said they were thus able to prevent damage to the observatory, according to a notice the lab released. In order to conduct an investigation and "out of an abundance of caution," the computer systems and website have been shut down at Gemini North, and the proposal tools were taken offline, though the main NOIRLab website still remains online. 

As the NOIRLab IT team creates a recovery plan alongside its cyber experts, the Gemini North telescope has been stowed away in "its zenith-pointing position."

Gemini North is one of only two telescopes at the Gemini Observatory and is part of an international science partnership between various countries, including the US, Canada, and Chile; the other telescope — Gemini South — is located in Cerro Pachón, Chile. Both telescopes have been shut down to allow the IT team to be able to investigate what occurred in the incident, which is unclear at this time.

"There is currently no impact on other NOIRLab infrastructure. Our highest priorities are to safely and securely resume observations, as well as to understand and learn from this incident," the NOIRLab stated in its announcement.

This is not the first time that space exploration equipment has been targeted by cyberattackers. Last November, the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) radio telescope in Chile became an unlikely target for a cyberattack when unknown assailants knocked its systems offline.