A key scientific instrument attached to the Gemini South observatory was damaged in late April when a malfunctioning heater raised its temperature to 200-degrees Celsius. It was never meant to withstand temperatures this high, and will be out of commission for several months while technicians make repairs.
The device is called Gemini Near Infrared Spectrometer (GNIRS), and it measures the spectrum of light coming from a distant object, to help astronomers understand its composition.
On the weekend of April 20th, technicians were using a system that warms up the instrument between observations, and it was left running for several days. This is standard procedure; however, an independent controller that shuts off power to the heater failed, and allowed the heater to reach 200-degrees.
Once they realized the instrument was being cooked by the heater, the technicians shut it down and allowed it to cool for a few days. They removed the instrument from the telescope, and dismantled it to access the damage.
Unfortunately, portions of GNIRS were damaged, and the CCD science detector was completely destroyed. Most of the instrument is undamaged, but it will still take several months to examine each component, clean and replace the damaged ones, and retest it for astronomical duty.
Original Source: Gemini News Release