Strange Americana: Arizona's Biosphere 2 Has Surprising Ties to Quarantine Experiments

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Located roughly 30 miles from Tucson, the old mining town of Oracle, Arizona, has an interesting history dating back to at least the 1870s. When gold and silver were discovered in the area, a mining community started to flourish, and a few years later, Oracle’s Acadia Ranch became a premier retreat for folks with tuberculosis. Buffalo Bill Cody, who owned the High Jinks Gold Mine for a time and dressed up as Santa Claus in 1911 to surprise the children of the town, even has ties to Oracle.

These days, it’s a bedroom community for nearby Tucson, but all that mining history aside, what really puts Oracle on the map for roadtrippers is Biosphere 2. That’s right — if you thought Nevada and New Mexico were the only states with ties to the interstellar, think again. Built between 1987 and 1991 as an Earth system science research facility, Biosphere 2 has provided researchers with a place to learn about Earth, its living systems and the planet’s place in the universe. At 3.14 acres, the structure remains the largest closed ecological system, or vivarium, ever created.

All of that is neat, but what makes it strangely connected to the events of 2020 is that one of the facility’s most notable purposes was to help determine how viable closed biospheres would be in future space colonization efforts. Of course, before the system could be taken to the "final frontier," it had to be tested, and that’s just what happened in Arizona in the 1990s.

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