Sunday, November 20, 2011

Mirror Lab and Biosphere 2 Tours

Arizona University is the institution we have to thank for both the mirror lab and Biosphere 2. I could have passed on the mirror lab but John was adamant about us seeing it. He certainly understood all the technology connected with mirror and telescopes than I did! The lab is located under the football stadium of the university. Our tour gave us a behind the scenes look at the optical technology and the processes which are needed to make giant telescope mirrors. The mirrors in the lab are currently being made for an observatory in Chile. We saw the large oven in which one mirror is currently being heated and spin casted.  In another room we saw two more mirrors sitting in their molds, one of which has undergone grinding and polishing. About as much as I got out of the tour is that the process is slow and exact, also very costly.  One of the mirrors we saw has a price tag of 30 million dollars. Which leads me to Biosphere 2 (our earth is Biosphere 1). The existence of that giant greenhouse was made possible through the largess of a wealthy Texan. He laid out 50 million for that research lab which lies outside of Tucson. It sits on a rather large campus.
Construction of the greenhouse began in 1984. After construction 5 natural biomes were created in it, complete with 1,000 species and animals (the animals are now gone). The 8 Biospherians (four men and 4 women) who lived in it from 1991-92 were sealed inside and had to harvest and prepare their own food with products grown from the various biomes. From the dining area of their living quarters we could look out over the tropical rain forest.
On our tour of the biosphere we passed through air locked doors from one biome into another. Pictured below is the ocean area. We also saw desert and marsh sections designed after various parts of the world.
Our tour also took us beneath the structure where miles of wiring, pipes and tubes make up a "technosphere" which recreates earth's recycling functions. From there we stepped into what can best be described as the lungs of the greenhouse. The domed building pictured below allows for air pressure to be equalized in Biosphere 2. Between the greenhouse and that building are research labs and living quarters, all connected.
Research in the greenhouse has continued since the first experiments in the early years of Biosphere 2. Last month construction was started for a landscape evolution observatory. There will be three huge sloped watersheds filled with soil and environmentally controlled. Research here will address how water, energy, and carbon moves through different landscapes, and how biological systems modify those landscapes. Hopefully it will shed some light on how future climate scenarios affect our physical world.

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