One of the world’s most advanced telescopes has been hacked and taken offline, with all astronomical observations suspended, but the motive of the intruders – and when it will be back up and running – remains unclear.
On Wednesday, the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) Observatory in Chile announced they had been hit by a cyberattack on Saturday, October 29, at 6:14 am. The statement said that the hack forced the telescope to pause its astronomical observations and the public website was down. As of today, November 4, the website still can’t be reached.
ALMA is made up of 68 high-precision antennas spread over 16 kilometers and is the largest ground-based astronomical project on Earth. Vitally, it was one of the many telescopes involved in the Event Horizon Telescope project that took the first direct image of a black hole back in 2019, and and it has detected the farthest water in the universe.
“There are limited email services at the observatory. The threat has been contained, and our specialists are working hard to restore affected systems. The attack did not compromise the ALMA antennas or any scientific data,” ALMA Observatory tweeted. “Given the nature of the episode, it is not yet possible to estimate a date for a return to regular activities."
ALMA is found high on a dusty plateau in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile some 5,058 meters (16,597 feet) above sea level. From this vantage point, it’s able to pick up signals from space that would otherwise be absorbed by water vapor in the Earth's atmosphere.
The array became fully operational in 2013 and a since proved to be an invaluable tool for exposing the secrets of the universe. It’s considered the most powerful telescope for observing the coldest objects in the universe and focuses its studies on the building blocks of stars, planetary systems, galaxies, and life itself.
As for why the astronomical facility was hacked, it’s uncertain. It’s also not known who carried out the attack, but authorities will no doubt be investigating.