.Biosphere2 contains within its glass and steel structure, artificially controlled environments, simulating many of the world’s real ecosystems. To the left is rainforest. To the right is mangrove swamp, such as I visited last summer in the islands of Fiji. But here I am high in the canopy of mangrove trees.
Private money built Biosphere2 in the 1980s. It looks much like Crystal Cathedral on the outside, but on the inside it has a science mindset. When I visited two days ago, I walked in rainforest, mangrove swamp, savanna, desert, and coastal fog; and saw the equipment that supported a closed system. They built it to be self sustaining, then sealed it for two years with eight humans inside, living symbiotically with plants and animals, receiving no food, air, or water from the outside.
The news media said the venture failed, that the people could not grow enough food, that oxygen in the air decreased. But eight people survived for two years in here, recycling their waste, growing food, and maintaining usable air and water, all without outside help. Biosphere2 is no longer sealed, but open for visitors and many ongoing science experiments.
.Underneath the structure is a complex of equipment which creates the artificial environments, adjusting temperature, humility, rainfall, and wind.
I found the “lung” most interesting. Due to expansion and contraction of air within the various environments, pressure or vacuum could become a problem. To moderate the pressure, the lung has a heavy central disk, shown in the right picture, which is suspended on the black rubber diaphragm around it. The disc raises and lowers, holding constant pressure. We could see the disc fall slightly when the door to the outside was opened for us to exit through a gush of wind.
The next day I entered the land of Tohono O’odham, second largest Indian reservation, after the Navajo. I drove up to a high mountain they call "Loligam" where astronomers have been allowed by the Indians to build and operate Kitt Peak National Observatory. I spent most of the day and half the night in a forest of twenty-five telescopes—optics and instruments of another kind of crystal, a “crystal cathedral” to view the heavens.
Vera Rubin was not exactly welcome in astronomy (no woman was then) but she took on the task of verifying the Keplarian Velocity curve for stars as they rotate about the centers of galaxies. Everyone knew that stars move faster near the center than they do at the outer limits, just as planets do as they move about the sun, but nobody had actually measured the velocities. So Vera set about the laborious task of speed measurement, which took her several years.
When she published her results, she concluded, surprisingly, that all the stars were moving at the same speed. Of course the real astronomers responded something like, “Yes, young lady, thank you for that, but you have made a mistake somewhere. Go back now and find out where it is.” So she repeated the work on other galaxies and found the result the same.
Eventually, the entire physics community was upset and looking for errors in Vera’s work. Today, the work stands, and the only explanation anyone has found is that some strange substance, which we call “dark matter,” accounts for the constant velocities of stars within galaxies. I was happy to stand inside the dome, by the telescope, pictured here, where Vera spent so many hours and for which she received so much ridicule.
In this view, two kinds of “cathedrals” look skyward—the 84-inch telescope where Vera Rubin discovered the basis for dark matter, and a scared mountain of the Tohono O’odham (“desert people.”) They call the mountain, Baboquivari Peak, and say it is the navel of the world, the opening in the Earth from which they emerged after the great worldwide flood.
Is Kitt Peak a window to God as the Tohono O’odham believe Baboquivari Peak is, and as Robert Schuller believed Crystal Cathedral was? Is Biosphere2 a miniature Kingdom of God as Jesus taught that the Church is, or should become? The history of Science and Church shows confusion over which ground each of them should rightly claim as sacred.
The Church has historically misunderstood its own scripture regarding the nature of creation, and has since corrected much of its error. But fights like the one between Schuller and his son show a failure of the Church to operate in the area of reconciliation, clearly the proper ground of Church. Science also has failed in its defined goal of understanding the universe, as evidenced by “dark matter” arising after everything was well on the road to discovery.
Through it all, Church and Science still regard their goals as beautiful as ever, and they doggedly push at the edge of light, forever hopeful of illumination. Words of the Church’s founder have not changed, and the universe is still unchanged and waiting there, for Science. Both forever young, forever hopeful.