Asarco Mine Tour

The Asarco Mine Tour began at their Discovery Center, where we boarded a shuttle bus with our guide and tour group. We visited the Mission Mine, which runs 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. On the drive out to see the pit, we passed the trailings mounds. These huge piles of rocks are discarded material.

Asarco Mission Mine Tour

Here’s the pit! It is 2 miles long! Each level you see going down is about 40 feet high. This mine produces more than 100,000 tons of copper every year.

Asarco Mission Mine Tour

When we arrived at the pit viewing area, the explosives team was there! I chatted with them while they were waiting to make sure everyone was out of the blast zone. They were really friendly and told me about placing the charges and about the mine in general. Then we watched the rocks get blown up!

Asarco Mission Mine Tour

Asarco Mission Mine Tour

Asarco Mission Mine Tour

Then we got to visit the mill, where they crush the rocks and start pulling out the copper.

Asarco Mission Mine Tour

Asarco Mission Mine Tour

Asarco Mission Mine Tour

Moving tons and tons of rock all day long means you need big trucks! The shuttle bus brought us back to the Discover Center, where they have some retired trucks to check out. This is an old scoop:

And look at this ridiculously gigantic dump truck!

Asarco Mission Mine Tour

The current model can fit this one in its truck bed!! Bonkers!

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Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab

The Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab at the University of Arizona builds mirrors for telescopes. Not backyard telescopes, but gigantic, mountain-top telescopes that can see into the deepest regions of outer space. Am I getting too dramatic? It was a very interesting visit! The tour was actually about 60% lecture and 40% tour. Our guides have worked at the lab for many years and did a wonderful job explaining the manufacturing process.

It takes about 2 years to produce one mirror. Basically, a mold is built, a furnace is constructed around the mold, the glass mirror is cast, and is then refined and polished.

The photo below shows the furnace floor. A honeycomb support structure is built on the floor, and then the furnace is constructed around the mold. The lab rebuilds (and takes apart) the furnace each time they produce a mirror.

Richard F. Caris Mirror Laboratory Tour

Do you see that big, round, white slab under the yellow railings in the photo below? That’s a mirror! A TWENTY-SEVEN FOOT wide mirror! The part we can see with the honeycomb structure is the back, and the mirrored surface will be on the opposite side.

Richard F. Caris Mirror Laboratory Tour

After casting, the mirror is tested, refined, tested, refined…you get the point. Our guides told us that nothing used in the manufacturing process is bought off the shelf, except for their diamonds. Yes! They use diamonds for shaping and smoothing the mirror surface. (At this point, the mirror is just glass, without the reflective coating.) The testing and refining process will adjust the mirror surface to be within nanometers of perfection. This photo shows the polishing machine—it’s that large round robot with all the tubes on the disc.

Richard F. Caris Mirror Laboratory Tour

The mirror we saw (cast in September 2015) is mirror number 4 of the Giant Magellan Telescope . The Giant Magellan Telescope is a (privately funded) billion dollar project that will be constructed in Chile in the Andes Mountains. Imagine how they’re going to transport seven 27-foot tall mirrors to a mountain top! Here’s a model of the telescope:

Model of Giant Magellan Telescope

And here’s a photo of a drawing that includes a human for scale:

Richard F. Caris Mirror Laboratory Tour

What!? Amazing! The Giant Magellan Telescope will be 10-times more powerful than the Hubble, seeing further in distance and time, and it will be able to do that from Earth!

 

 

Titan Missile Museum

Titan II Missile Museum

Complex 571-7 is now home to the Titan Missile Museum. This site held a Titan II missile on 24-hour alert from 1963 to 1987. This tour is awesome! The guides are very knowledgeable and took us all over the complex.

After entering the Access Portal, we took the stairs down 35 feet underground to the Blast Lock Area. Each pair of blast doors had interlocks, so that one had to be closed before the next was opened.

Then we were taken to the Launch Control Center, where our guide explained all the equipment, talked about the duties of the crew, and took us through the process of launching a missile (just 58 seconds!). The station was manned 24-7 by a 4 person crew, and the only place a person was allowed to be alone was in the crew quarters.

Titan II Missile Museum

Titan II Missile Museum

Titan II Missile Museum

The red locker held the launch codes. The Titan II was the most powerful ICBM built by the US. In about a half-hour, the 9-megaton warhead could reach targets 6000 miles away. Thankfully, no one ever had to access those launch codes.

Titan II Missile Museum

The Control Center was designed to withstand a nuclear blast and was basically a hanging cage underground. Gigantic springs would have absorbed some of the shock of a blast.

After the Control Center, we walked across the Cableway to the Decontamination Area and the Launch Silo.

Titan II Missile Museum

Titan II Missile Museum

Titan II Missile Museum

Then we walked back through the Cableway and climbed the stairs to exit the Access Portal. The Silo door is open and you can see the missile from above. There are lots of signs explaining the history of the Titan II missile, the various radar and communications systems, and engines on display.

Titan II Missile Museum

Titan II Missile Museum

Titan II Missile Museum

Although the Titan II was built for destruction, it was also used to launch satellites, probes to Mars, and the Gemini astronauts into space.

 

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Biosphere 2

Do you remember in the early 90s when a group of scientists sealed themselves up in a huge greenhouse-type structure? It’s called Biosphere 2, and they give tours now!

Biosphere 2

Biosphere 2 has five connected biome areas: a rainforest, an ocean with coral reef, mangrove wetlands, grassland, and a coastal desert. There’s also a separate area inside that the scientists used for agriculture. Our tour guide walked us through each area and told us about past experiments conducted here and what they’re working on now. (Biosphere 2 is now part of the University of Arizona.)

Biosphere 2

There’s also a human habitat zone inside Biosphere 2. The scientists had a communal kitchen and gathering area, and there were individual “apartments” for each team member. Every single meal they ate, for 2 years, was cooked from ingredients grown inside Biosphere 2!

Biosphere 2

Biosphere 2

The tour took us underground to see the sprawling mechanical systems that kept Biosphere 2 running. It was a maze of pipes and machinery! Our tour guide took us down an air intake tunnel to see one of the “lungs.” The lungs helped regulate the pressure inside Biosphere 2 so that it wouldn’t implode, or explode, from the changing temperatures.

When Biosphere 2 was sealed, the ceilings of the lungs moved up and down according to the air pressure. In the photo below, those white metal poles hanging from the top were sometimes sitting on the ground.

Biosphere 2

Biosphere 2

This tour was really fun. If you’re interested in earth science, or engineering, it’s definitely worth a visit. And if you’ve been wondering, “where is Biosphere 1?” Guess what?! It’s Earth! You’re living in it!

Tohono Chul Park

While visiting Tucson, we spent a few hours walking around the desert trails and gardens of Tohono Chul Park.

Tohono Chul Park

Tohono Chul Park

Tohono Chul Park

What’s neat about this park is their theme of nature, art, and culture. In addition to several walking trails, there are sculptures on the grounds and an art gallery. Signs along the trails taught us about the Tohono O’odham people and the Sonoran Desert.

Tohono Chul Park

Tohono Chul Park

Tohono Chul Park

Tohono Chul Park

Tohono Chul Park

Saguaro National Park (East)

Saguaro National Park

Let’s start with this: it’s pronounced “sa-WAH-ro.” These cacti are only found in the Sonoran Desert, and only up to a certain elevation (they can’t survive the colder temperatures).

Saguaro National Park

The saguaro sprouts from a tiny black seed.

Saguaro National Park

A 6-foot tall saguaro is around 35 years old. They often sprout their arms when they reach about 10–15ft.

Which means saguaros that are super tall, and have lots of arms, are really old!

Saguaro National Park

We took a guided walk (they’re free!) with Park Ranger Jeff, who took us off the trail to see the giant above. That cactus is around 150 years old! The ranger program was very informative! We learned a lot about the saguaro, and also other cacti, local trees, and the impact people and the changing climate have had on this area. We’re now very good at spotting the state tree of Arizona, the Palo Verde:

After the ranger program, we did the Mica View Loop. It was an easy walk that gave us plenty of opportunities to admire the saguaros (and all those other plants we learned about, too).

Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park

There are lots of trails and they often intersect. The markers are helpful, but I’d recommend reviewing the trail map with a ranger before you set out.

Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park

The saguaro is supported on the inside by woody ribs. When the cactus dies, the ribs sometimes remain standing.

Saguaro National Park

To access some of the trail heads, you have to take the Cactus Forest Loop Drive. This is a one-way 8-mile road that begins and ends at the visitor’s center. It’s a very pretty drive with great views of the desert and surrounding mountains. There are some overlooks along the route for checking out the views or taking a walk to see the Javelina Rocks.

Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park

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