Biosphere 2: An Artificial Earth in the Arizona Desert

Your Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders
Sept. 5 2013 8:36 AM

Biosphere 2: A Glass-Encased Artificial Earth in the Arizona Desert

Atlas Obscura on Slate is a new travel blog. Like us on Facebook, Tumblr, or follow us on Twitter @atlasobscura.

With dreams of colonizing Mars, John P. Allen, who made his millions in oil, funded the building of Biosphere 2 in the middle of the Arizona desert. (Planet earth is Biosphere 1.) The 3.15-acre sealed glass house is a dazzling attempt to completely recreate the conditions and environment of Earth including a rainforest, desert, marsh, and an mini-ocean.

In September 1991, seven crew members walked into Biosphere 2, which was sealed behind them. They were charged with the task of growing their own food and conducting environmental experiments while sealed for two years inside the complex.


What started as a science experiment turned into a psychological experiment. The body masses of the scientists fell over time, as did the biosphere's oxygen levels. "Confined environment psychology" set in. Crew members grew to despise each other and found conflict in even the smallest decisions. The media and scientific community criticized the two-year, $150-million-dollar experiment, calling it "tamper-prone" and a "stunt."

The crew stayed in Biosphere 2 for the full two years, but when they emerged, their experiment was largely dismissed as a scientific failure. It was, from a monetary perspective, a total disaster. Despite this discouraging news, a second crew entered in April of 1994 and exited prematurely in September of the same year as the management of Biosphere 2 dissolved. 

Unused for many years, the facility was bought by the University of Arizona in 2007 and is now the home of many university experiments and educational programs. Visitors can now take a tour of the now non-sealed biosphere and learn about the over 3,500 exotic species growing in the dome, as well as the experiments currently taking place in it -- none of which involve living inside the dome.

Desert research spots:


Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

The XX Factor

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.


Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

Trending News Channel
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
Brow Beat
Sept. 21 2014 12:43 PM Watch Rachel Dratch and Tina Fey Do a Second City Sketch in 1997
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 21 2014 8:00 AM An Astronaut’s Guided Video Tour of Earth
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.