A Miniature Planet Inside a Planet

By Anupum Pant

A couple of months back I wrote about a miniature sealed self-sustaining ecosystem that an old man has been running successfully for more than 53 years now. The whole ecosystem surviving out of itself in a completely closed system for such a long time is really fascinating. It’s like a little planet.

What if I tell you, there’s a much larger version of this completely sealed biosphere in Arizona. Much larger than the bottle, but way too smaller than our planet, and yet it works like a little planet inside a planet.

They call it the Biosphere 2 (Biosphere 1 is the plane earth’s biosphere). It is a completely closed 3-acre facility, currently owned by the University of Arizona, which doesn’t allow any matter to go in or out. There’s just energy moving in and out of this little planet that is the size of 3 football fields. Exactly like a miniature version of our pale blue dot.

Think about it this way. If you had to make a pizza in a place like that, it could take you two months or more, assuming you had everything needed to make a pizza (goats/cows for the cheese etc…). Just thinking about it makes you appreciate the fact that we’ve come so far. So far, that we’re able to get a pizza right on our door step in under 30 minutes.

The Biosphere 2 was designed to get a deeper understanding on how the earth’s biosphere actually works. Also, its aim was to try and create a prototype space base for Mars – Something like a little planet earth where we could live in and could carry it with us on a trip to other planets.

In the Biosphere 2 are areas that are meant for humans to live. Besides that there is a miniature rainforest, a savannah, a desert, a marsh, and a little mini-ocean in there!

Jane Poynter, with her team, walked into this biosphere when she was 29 years old. She lived in there for about 2 years and then came out. The world felt like a completely different place to her. It is really interesting to hear her talk in this TEDx talk…

Miniature Sealed Self-Sustaining Ecosystem

By Anupum Pant
  1. 53 years ago, David Latimer (80) from Surrey planted an indoor Spiderwort in a huge glass globular bottle. He has watered it just once, in the year 1972. Since then, this self-sustaining ecosystem, has been sealed away from the outside world for around 40 years. In spite of being sealed away like that, the plant has grown very well in its own miniature ecosystem [Picture]. The only regular external energy it has received has been in the form of light. [more about this self-sustaining ecosystem and how it works]
  2. The EcoSphere or the Original EcoSphere takes it to the next level by introducing a shrimp in a similar setting. Like David Latimer’s bottle, this is also a self-sustaining ecosystem consisting of algae, bacteria and shrimp. The company that sells these things says that the shrimps would last for just around 10 years. Although, they also claim of 25-year-old spheres with living shrimps.
    10 years is little as compared to the ecosystem discussed in the first point. But we are talking about a pet living in a completely sealed space for 10 years, without demanding food, change of water or an appointment with the vet. For these little creatures it is probably a safe haven away from the dirty oil slicked oceans and predators; or probably just a prison.

These little biospheres are a far simpler and smaller versions of our big worlds. We are like the shrimp and the trees, our algae. This diagram explains in a simple way, how these artificial, extremely simplified versions of Earth work – [Diagram]

The shrimp and algae biospheres were discovered by two scientists, the late Dr. Joe Hanson and the late Dr. Clair Folsome. Later, NASA became interested in these systems. There got interested because:

  1. This tiny model of the Earth could add information to NASA’s Mission to Planet Earth program for studying Earth’s biosphere.
  2. It could help NASA’s research on human life support systems directed toward the construction of space stations for exploring our solar system.

Make it for yourself: Make magazine published a detailed DIY guide on how to create these living biospheres at home. [Link] Carl Sagan’s Review of these biospheres: The World Arrived in The Mail.

Random Foliage Fact:

The world’s smallest park is located in the median strip of SW Naito Parkway, approaching esplanade along the Willamette River near SW Taylor Street in downtown Portland, Oregon, United States. Mill Ends Park, a 2 ft is a circular park, has held a place in the Guinness book of Records since 1971. It isn’t a park you can send your children to. – [Wikipedia]