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Open letter to science editors
Sagan's "Ten Plagues"
RALPH E. JUERGENS
PROBLEM 1. THE EJECTION
OF VENUS BY JUPITER
Sagan opens the curtain on his analysis of what he refers to
as Velikovsky's "predictions" with a remark that sets the mood for
everything that follows: The ejection of "an object of planetary
dimensions" by Jupiter "has never been observed by astronomers . . ." With
these words he places himself in the company of eighteenth century
astronomers, who denied the reality of meteorites because they had never
seen stones falling from the sky.
Getting down to specifics, Sagan recounts how certain
nineteenth century astronomers (whom he characterizes as "early
astronomers") thought Jupiter must be the source of the so-called
short-period comets with aphelia near the Jovian orbit. But, says Sagan,
"this is an unnecessary hypothesis" because perturbations of long-period
comets by Jupiter can result in their capture into short-period orbits by
the giant planet. His audience, of course, is to infer that "unnecessary"
means untrue. The rules change for Comet Venus, however. Sagan informs us
that if Venus was ever a short-period comet on an orbit that endangered the
Earth, there would have been "a high probability of a close approach to
Jupiter which would eject the object from the solar system before a
near-encounter with the Earth . . ." No quarter shall be given Velikovsky.
By Sagan's reckoning, the very minimum energy required to
eject Venus from Jupiter, assuming an escape velocity for the latter of
"about 70 km/sec," would amount to approximately 1041 ergs
"equivalent to all the energy radiated by the sun in all directions in
space in an entire year." Furthermore, at least 10 percent of this energy
would go into heating the ejected body, so that, whatever its composition,
it would have been completely melted. (Just how the body is ejected with
one-tenth of the ejection energy thus diverted is not explained.)
These very figures, including the comparison with the sun's
annual energy output, were advanced by astronomer Lloyd Motz in rebuttal to
Velikovsky's article on "Venus--A Youthful Planet," published in Yale
Scientific Magazine for April 1967. As Velikovsky pointed out at that
time and in the same place, the escape velocity for Jupiter is only about 59
km/sec, not 70 km/sec. Also, when the present-day, equatorial rotational
velocity of Jupiter is subtracted from this figure, on the supposition that
the birth of Venus was in the nature of a spinoff of matter and not an
"eruption," the velocity, over and above that due to rotation, needed for
"escape" comes down to about 46 km/sec.
And even this is too much, as Velikovsky showed, since the concept of
"escape velocity" implies escape on an orbit reaching to infinity; escape on
an orbit contained within the solar system requires a velocity only 71
percent as great as escape velocity. Thus the energy required for Venus to
have spun off from Jupiter in the manner proposed by R. A. Lyttleton
(Man's View of the Universe, Boston: Little, Brown, 1961, p. 36) amounts
to considerably less than the figure given by Sagan and Motz.
But Velikovsky has emphasized (Worlds in Collision, p.
373; Yale Scientific Magazine, April 1967, pp. 9 and 14;
KRONOS Vol. 2, No. 1, p. 3) that his researches indicate that a
near-collision between major planets was the source of the energy
involved in the birth of Venus. Thus we may imagine, perhaps, that
Venus was "torn" from the body of Jupiter, or, as Eric Crew has recently
suggested (KRONOS, Vol. 3, No. 1, p. 18), that an inertial displacement
of the Jovian core resulted in its eventual expulsion as a ready-formed
body. C. J. Ransom (The Age of Velikovsky, Glassboro: Kronos
Press, 11)76, pp. 108-109) has discussed this energy problem in some
detail, putting it in proper perspective.
Sagan goes on to accuse Velikovsky of ignoring the likelihood
that a Venus ejected from Jupiter would emerge completely molten, and of
not citing this cause as a factor in his prediction that Venus would be
found excessively hot. Here Sagan betrays himself as an ill-attentive
reader. In discussing the thermal balance of Venus (Worlds in
Collision, p. 371), Velikovsky speaks plainly enough: "Venus
experienced in quick succession its birth and expulsion under violent
conditions ... [and] the core of the planet Venus must still be hot.. ."
Still pursuing, like Motz, the irrelevant "volcanic-eruption"
hypothesis and falsely ascribing it to Velikovsky, Sagan argues that
Venus should have been blown to bits in accordance with "comminution
Physics." After inserting another untruth to the effect that Velikovsky
lays the destruction of Sennacherib's army to a swarm of boulders
travelling with Mars, Sagan goes on and on about the afterbirth matter
that should be in space, and insists: Even now on Earth "bombardment by
objects which can make craters a mile or so across should be happening
every second Tuesday..... The absence of a great many small objects with
orbits crossing the orbit of the Earth is another fundamental objection
to Velikovsky's basic thesis."
This is pure fabrication. Let it stand as a monument in print
to the lengths to which Velikovsky's critics are still willing to go.
PROBLEM II. REPEATED COLLISIONS AMONG THE EARTH, VENUS AND MARS
In arguing at San Francisco that probabilities make
Velikovsky's near-collision hypothesis untenable, Sagan neither stated
his assumptions nor provided copies of his calculations for
evaluation. Obviously, however, whatever calculations he had performed
up to that time had given diverse results, as indicated by handwritten
changes in the typescript of his symposium presentation. His initial
estimate apparently was that Venus, as a comet with aphelion near the
orbit of Jupiter and perihelion inside the present orbit of Venus, "will
take an average of some thirty thousand years before it comes close to
impace [sic] with the Earth." By hand he revised the figure to
"ten million years" before releasing the pages for duplication. Now, in
the 1976 version of the paper, there is another increase to "thirty
million years." And Appendix I is at last in circulation to document the
biases of its author.
For example, since Velikovsky calls his book "Worlds in
Collision," and since on page 72 (Sagan says page 87) Velikovsky quotes
one source as describing tides piled 1600 miles high (and,
unacknowledged by Sagan, immediately notes that this is a figure of
speech intended to convey the idea of immensity), Sagan decides that a
grazing collision is the event whose probability must be assessed. So
he rambles through eight typewritten sheets of mostly irrelevant
discussion and calculation to justify his announced figures. Only
toward the end does he come clean to the extent of admitting that in his
calculations "an approach to within N Earth radii has N2
times the probability of a physical collision." In other words, if
Venus approached to within, say, 500,000 miles, or 126 Earth radii (at
which distance it would already loom twice as large in the sky as the
sun or the Moon), Sagan's calculation would yield odds differing from
his stated result by a factor of 16,000.
But the entire performance is an exercise in futility.
Velikovsky's work is concerned with history, not with a game of chance
concerning what might have been. He gives no estimate of the length of
time Venus may have orbited as a comet before encountering the Earth,
but any number of years--30 million or 30--would be consonant with any
calculated probability of an encounter.
If we go along with Sagan and most of his colleagues in
accepting that the solar system is 4.5 (or is it now 10?) billion years
old, we must suspect (on the basis of Sagan's calculations) that our
planet has had grazing collisions with Venus-sized short-period comets
at least 150 times since the inception of the system. Velikovsky's
research suggests only that a single far-from-grazing encounter
(followed by another with the comet undoubtedly on an altered orbit)
occurred within the memory of man.
Harold Urey, who apparently becomes apoplectic at the
mention of Velikovsky's name, has recently picked up on an idea advanced
earlier by Nininger (Out of the Sky, 1952) that "Cometary
encounters may well be considered as having been responsible on the
earth for the puzzling succession of geological revolutions which form
the principal time divisions in historical geology" (Nininger 294, Dover
edition, 1959); Urey (Nature 242, 32, March 2, II) almost parrots
Velikovsky: ". . . very violent physical effects should occur over a
substantial fraction of the Earth's surface. For example, the great
seismic effects might initiate extensive lava flows. . . I suggest that
the termination of a geological period would result and a new one would
begin. The scattering of ocean water over land areas would destroy land
plants and animals, though probably such water would not fall uniformly
and some would not be killed by that method... High temperatures for
brief periods would be most destructive to animals and plants, and
moderate rises in temperature with high humidity would destroy many
living things. It seems likely that interesting studies could be made
by biologists and paleontologists in regard to the selection of
survivors of such catastrophes. . ."
In his main text Sagan argues that five or six near-collisions
of Venus and Mars with the Earth, each an independent event, defies
total odds of "almost a hundred billion trillion to one" against any
such sequence. This is adding insult to injury. Once Venus were
diverted into an orbit of fairly short period, as perhaps by its first
encounter with the Earth, and if Mars were initially on an orbit
interior to that of the Earth, as Rose has suggested (Pensee 1,
May 1972, P. 42), the odds against succeeding near-collisions would be
reduced drastically. Furthermore, there is no justification for
assuming each encounter in such a series to be an independent event; the
precepts of celestial mechanics can easily accommodate the possibility
that each in a series of encounters would increase the likelihood of the next.
Sagan's appeal to probabilities did not fail to appeal to a
few journalists. Charles Petit of the San Francisco Chronicle
dutifully reported the morning after the symposium (February 26, 1974)
that "the odds on strictly mathematical grounds against such encounters
as described by Velikovsky are 10 followed by 23 zeros." In attempting
to present the same case, Science News (March 2, 1974) came up
with this: "The probability of an ejected planet colliding repeatedly
with earth and Mars as Velikovsky describes, is one chance in 1023
." The reporters in both instances managed to garble Sagan. And Petit
increased the unfavorable odds by another factor of 10.
Not to be outdone, however, Sagan now revises his own odds to
1027 to one.
PROBLEM III. THE EARTHS ROTATION
Here, Sagan begins his discussion with a little item from the
January 1950 Harper's article, "The Day the Sun Stood Still," by
Eric Larrabee. This concerns a bit of fiction by H. G. Wells in which
"The Man Who Could Work Miracles" stops the Earth's rotation but forgets
that loose objects will tend to keep on moving due to the inertia of
motion. This introduces a point seized upon by Sagan to demonstrate his
own magnanimity: He concedes that a gradual deceleration could bring the
Earth's spin to a standstill "in a period of much less than a day" and
thus deflates one of the most widely copied arguments of 1950 against
Worlds in Collision.
But Sagan immediately knocks his halo askew. He adds:
"Then [emphasis added] no one would fly off. . ." Apparently he
still fails to realize that loose objects, like himself, are not held to
the face of the Earth by the rotation of the planet but by its gravity;
otherwise, how can he subscribe to the concept of "flying off" in
connection with a rotational deceleration of any, magnitude?
Sagan's real concern, he tells us, is not the slowing or
stopping of the spin but its restoration. "How does the Earth get
started up again, rotating at approximately the same rate of spin?"
This is a question I have attempted to answer (Pensee VII, Spring
1974; KRONOS, Vol. 2, No. 3, 1977) in terms of the moment of inertia of
the Earth's electric charge. Sagan insists that the law of conservation
of angular momentum prohibits the Earth from restarting itself; I
pointed out that Precisely this same law must come into play to restart
the spin if the initial deceleration is due to an addition of charge to the Earth.
PROBLEM IV. TERRESTRIAL GEOLOGY AND LUNAR CRATERS
Sagan claims that there was nothing unusual about the
intensity of terrestrial volcanism during the period Velikovsky assigns
for tile near-contacts between the Earth and Mars and Venus.
There is impressive evidence already in hand suggesting that
volcanism has been strongly episodic on a global basis in recent
geologic history (Cf. A. McBinney et al., Geology, December
1974, p. 585; J. Kennett and R. Thunell, Science 187, 497 [14
February 1975] : D. Ninkovich and W. Donn, Science 194, 899 [26
November 1976],). The same evidence has been linked suggestively to
onsets of the so-called ice ages (Cf. Kennett and Thunell, op. cit.;
Kennett and Thunell, Science 196, 1231 [10 June 1977] ; J.
Bray, Science 197, 251 [15 July 1977] ; see also Science News
105, 176 [March 16, 1974].). And Velikovsky links many effects
usually attributed to high-latitude glaciation to the irruptions of the
seas during near-collision catastrophes. However, since accepted
dating methods push the "ice ages" too far back in time, excessive
volcanism less than 4000 year,, appears to be geologically unrecorded
(but see S. Porter, Science 375 [23 April 1971] concerning an
episode of unusual activity at Mauna Kea Volcano, Hawaii, dated at about
4500 years ago).
Now Sagan is also a party to all this, having published, with
two other authors, a paper in the Journal of Geophysical Research
for February 20, 1976, supporting a connection between episodic
volcanism and climatic change. But Sagan always seems to favor the
statistical approach, and in this instance the announced wisdom concerns
"major episodic climatic changes lasting from a decade to a century
every 1,000 to 1 million years."
Sagan phrases his remarks to suggest that he rejects both
global episodic volcanism and Velikovsky's timetable. But it is clear
from the preceding that he really finds fault with the timetable alone.
Still, when one attacks Velikovsky, it is best to employ every possible
According to Sagan, geomagnetic field-reversals occur about
every million years, but none has occurred in the last few thousand
years. As I attempt to show in an upcoming KRONOS article, the evidence
for the cyclic reversals of the field is suspect. On the other hand,
there is, as Velikovsky has repeatedly said, firm evidence for at least
one reversal in the first millennium B.C.
Sagan next informs us that the mountains of the world were
built "tens of millions of years ago" or earlier. How does he explain,
then, the raising of Tiahuanacu to 12,500 feet above sea level, the
existence of marine fauna in Lake Titicaca, and the terraced
agricultural slopes disappearing beneath the perpetual snows at 18,000
feet in the Andes? (Velikovsky asked this question of scientists in
general in 1955 [Earth in Upheaval] and still has received no
answer.) For that matter, how does Sagan square his view with that of
the continental-drifters who claim that "the mountain-building
processes that raised the Andean chain are still very active today" (D.
James, Scientific American, August 1973, p. 61)?*
In Worlds in Collision (p. 362) Velikovsky emphasizes
his position that "The great formations of craters, mountains, rifts,
and plains of lava on the moon were formed not only in the upheavals
described in this book, but also in those which took place in earlier
times." Sagan, however, creates the impression that Velikovsky would
make most of these features of recent origin. This provides a smooth
transition to the next non sequitur: "if lunar craters were to
have formed abundantly 2700 years ago, there must have been a similar
production at the same time of terrestrial craters larger than a
In several places Velikovsky has discussed the likelihood that
the rayed craters of the Moon-- the most recent craters on that body
were produced by interplanetary electrical discharges (Cf. New York
Times, July 21, 1969; Pensee 1, May 1972, p. 14). It is
readily conceivable that the Moon, perhaps on occasion even more
intimately involved with Mars and Venus than was the Earth in the days
of "Worlds in Collision," might suffer more intense cratering as a
result. Furthermore, as an aimless, waterless, relatively
non-conducting body unprotected by a magnetic field of any consequence,
the Moon would be more subject to random, global electrical cratering
than the Earth. But Sagan dismisses (or ignores) all this, recognizes
only impact cratering, and concludes that "the absence of abundant
cratering on the earth disproves the idea that abundant cratering
occurred on the moon 2700 years ago."
Sagan tries to make a case against Velikovsky for not
realizing the enormous heights tidal waters might reach in the event of
a close passage by Venus or Mars. But Velikovsky devotes much of
Earth in Upheaval and Worlds in Collision to evidence for
sudden inundations of human habitations in historical times. He makes
frequent references to enormous floods described in the folk histories
of many ancient peoples (aside from the much earlier universal deluge).
"Where are the extensive faunal extinctions of the correct
date due to such floods?" asks Sagan. "And where is the evidence of
extensive melting in these centuries, near where the tidal distortion is
greatest?" What can one say, except "Read Velikovsky's books"?
PROBLEM V. CHEMISTRY AND BIOLOGY OF THE TERRESTRIAL PLANETS
Sagan now piles on the charges, one after another:
"He [Velikovsky] seems not to know (page 16) that oxygen is
produced by green plant photosynthesis on the Earth. He makes no note
of the fact that Jupiter is composed primarily of hydrogen and helium
while the atmosphere of Venus ... is composed entirely of carbon
dioxide. Velikovsky holds that the manna which fell from the skies in
the Sinai peninsula was of cometary origin and therefore that there are
carbohydrates on both Jupiter and Venus ... his book displays a
sustained confusion of carbohydrates and hydrocarbons . . ."
What does Velikovsky say on page 16? "If, in the beginning,
the planet [Earth] was a hot conglomerate of elements, as the nebular as
well as the tidal theories assume, then the iron of the globe should
have become oxidized and combined with all available oxygen. But for
some unknown reason this did not take place; thus the presence of oxygen
in the terrestrial atmosphere is unexplained." Photosynthesis--the
release of free oxygen from carbon dioxide--does not solve the problem
posed by the cosmological theorists' failure to explain how oxygen
escaped the clutches of iron.
On page 369 Velikovsky writes: "If, as is assumed here, Venus
was thrown off from Jupiter in a violent expulsion, and if Venus has
petroleum gases, then Jupiter must have petroleum. The fact that
methane has been discovered in the atmosphere of Jupiter - the
only known constituents of its atmosphere are the poisonous gases
methane and ammonia [emphasis added] - makes it rather probable that
it has petroleum; the so-called 'natural gas' found in and near oil
fields consists largely of methane." Sagan ignores this and chides
Velikovsky for not mentioning in 1950 a consensus reached after that
time about hydrogen and helium abundances on Jupiter.
As Sagan is perfectly aware, or should be, Velikovsky's idea
that petroleum hydrocarbons and other compounds might be synthesized in
electrical discharges has been in print almost 28 years (WiC, p.
369). A year or so after the appearance of Worlds in Collision,
acting on a suggestion by Harold Urey, Stanley Miller synthesized a
number of organic molecules (haphazardly) by exposing a mixture of
methane, ammonia, hydrogen, and water vapor to an electrical discharge.
In 1960 A. T. Wilson reported (Nature 188, 1007, December 17,
1960) the creation of heavy-hydrocarbon molecules by doing the same with
a mixture of methane and ammonia. That same year Sagan collaborated
with Miller in a report (Astronomical Journal 65, 499) of similar
experiments conducted, apparently, while Sagan was still a graduate
student at the University of Chicago. A decade later Sagan had the
cheek to write: "In the first attempt explicitly to simulate the
Jovian atmosphere, Sagan and Miller (1960) sparked a mixture
of methane and ammonia in an excess of hydrogen and produced ethane
(C2H6), ethylene (C2H4), acetylene (C2H2), hydrogen cyanide (HCN), and
acetonitrile (CH3CN) . .." [Emphasis added] (Astrophysical Journal
168, 563, 1971 September 15). The literal truth is preserved, quite
obviously, by the emphasized passage; but it is passing strange that
Sagan would not even mention the studies of his mentor (Miller) that led
up to their joint efforts, if indeed not the work of Wilson, who stepped
out of line and asked: "Do the clouds of Venus contain this material?"
And now Sagan remarks: "Velikovsky's insistence on a celestial origin
[sic; read: alternative suggestion for the origin] of petroleum is
difficult to understand."
Velikovsky speculates (WiC, 134) that manna was of
carbohydrate composition, but it is only in this connection that he
speaks of carbohydrates. Thus Sagan's charge of "sustained confusion"
with hydrocarbons is baseless.
According to Sagan, Velikovsky "believes that much of the
'vermin,' and particularly the flies referred to in Exodus,
really fell from his comet--although he hedges on the extraterrestrial
origin of frogs while approvingly quoting from the Iranian text the
Bundahi, (page 183) which seems to admit a rain of cosmic frogs. . .
The idea that of all the organisms on the Earth, flies alone are of
extraterrestrial origin is ... [curious]."
Here Sagan even contradicts himself in heaping unfounded
accusations on Velikovsky: If indeed Velikovsky believed something
concerning much of the "vermin," how could Sagan justify equating the
latter with "flies alone"? But Sagan had a cute turn of phrase up his
sleeve, and he apparently could not bring himself to abandon it. So he
had to focus attention on flies. After another full page in which Sagan
rather pedantically outlines the environmental conditions conducive to
fly prosperity, the stage is set for the bon mot.- "Next there is
the problem of fly ablation. . . Not only would cometary vermin be
transformed rapidly into fried flies.... [etc.]. Impossible to begin
with, doubly fried and atomized, cometary flies do not well survive
And, naturally, Sagan got a big laugh out of the San Francisco
audience for his witticism. But what of it? The technique of
misquoting Velikovsky to set the stage for ridicule is as old as
Worlds in Collision.
Nevertheless, to set the record straight, let us accept
Sagan's invitation to examine page 183 as well as a few others. The
passage from the Bundahis which mentions frogs goes like this:
"And noxious creatures were diffused by him [Ahriman] over the earth,
biting and venomous, such as the snake, scorpion, frog, and lizard, so
that not so much as the point of a needle remained free from noxious
creatures." Exactly what is meant by "diffused" is not clear, but we
recall that Sagan's preferred explanation for the universal elements in
myths is that they were diffused over the face of the Earth, by
which he surely does not mean they fell from the sky. The preceding
sentence in the Bundahis (also quoted by Velikovsky) likens
Ahriman to a fly, and the diffusion referred to could be an extension of
the same metaphor, recognizing the disease-vector proclivities of the
fly. In any case, Velikovsky says (p. 184): "The internal heat
developed by the earth and the scorching gases of the comet were in
themselves sufficient to make the vermin of the earth propagate at a
very feverish rate. Some of the plagues, like the plague of the frogs
... or of the locusts, must be ascribed to such causes."
On page 185 Velikovsky raises the question "whether or not
the comet Venus infested the earth with vermin which it may have
carried in its trailing atmosphere in the form of larvae together with
stones and gases." But he does not attempt to answer it. On page 187 he
concludes the discussion: "Modern biologists toy with the idea that
microorganisms arrive on the earth from interstellar spaces, carried by
the pressure of light. Hence, the idea of the arrival of living
organisms from interplanetary spaces is not new. Whether there is truth
in this supposition of larval contamination of the earth is anyone's
guess. The ability of many small insects and their larvae to
endure great cold and heat and to live in an atmosphere devoid of oxygen
renders not entirely improbable the hypothesis that Venus (and also
Jupiter, from which Venus sprang) may be populated by vermin." [Emphasis
added] At the Denver meeting of the A.A.A.S. in 1961, "Dr. Sagan
explained that it should not come as a surprise, however, if scientists
were one day to find bugs from space on the moons of planets more
distant from the sun than earth, such as Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus or
Neptune. . ." The information was passed along by J. A. Osmundsen in the
New York Times for December 28, 1961. Since that time, Sagan has
made a name for himself as an incessant headline-grabber whenever and
wherever the subject of extraterrestrial life comes up; it ill-behooves
him to misrepresent and mock another's sober comments on the subject.
Similar misrepresentation is evident in Sagan's treatment of
the subject of manna. He asks: "How much manna is required to feed the
hundreds of thousands of Children of Israel for forty years ... ?" He
estimates 100 kilograms per person per year, or 4000 kilograms per
person in 40 years. Hundreds of thousands of Israelites would thus have
consumed more than one million (sic) kilograms of manna during
their wandering in the desert. This amount, Sagan insists, must be
multiplied over the entire surface of the earth, and then over the
volume of the inner solar system. He concludes that the comet must have
given off some 1028 grams of manna, and that its initial
mass, therefore, must have been greater than that of Jupiter.
"Interplanetary space ... should even today be filled with manna."
It is depressing to see a highly regarded scientist resorting
to such tactics in the name of objective appraisal of another's work.
Even acknowledging this argument does it more honor than it deserves,
but in this world the pronouncements of the Sagans must be reckoned
Even granting Sagan's estimate of the total consumption of
manna by the Israelites in 40 years --1 billion kilograms, incidentally,
by his figures, not a "million"--one need not conclude that the total
production was anything like his end figure. Velikovsky's sources do
not describe clouds that covered the Earth completely for 40 years, but
clouds that remained stationary at times or moved about at others, so
that the encamped survivors had to pick up and follow them. Also, all
accounts suggest that the manna, ambrosia, or whatever, was a
condensation from the clouds - a "heavy dew." The most likely locations
for the formation of the clouds would have been over fairly high,
relatively cool-at-night land areas. Most continental and probably all
oceanic areas could be left out of the calculation; high mountain tops
probably were above the clouds, and temperatures at sea level may seldom
if ever have reached the "dew point" of the manna.
Sagan's stipulation that the Earth's share could be only 10-10
of the manna strewn around the inner solar system is nonsense.
Velikovsky's thesis is that the Earth captured this material from the
tail of the comet Venus by being immersed in it, perhaps even stealing a
good percentage of the train attending the protoplanet at the first pass
(Cf. WiC, P. 78). To imagine that the Earth just happened to be
sprinkled with matter being sprayed throughout interplanetary space by a
strangely effusive comet is a distortion that can only reflect Sagan's
determination to discredit Velikovsky at any cost.
Says Sagan: "Comets are known to be composed primarily of ices
. . ." This is a scientific guess, not a known fact, and is not relevant
to the Venus comet anyway.
PROBLEM VII. THE CLOUDS OF
Determined to deny Velikovsky credit for anything, Sagan goes
out of his way to confuse issues. Here he attributes to Velikovsky a
prediction that he did not make - that carbohydrates would be
found in the clouds of Venus. Velikovsky wrote: "on the basis of this
research, I assume that Venus must be rich in petroleum gases. If and
as long as Venus is too hot for the liquefaction of petroleum, the
hydrocarbons will circulate in gaseous form." [Emphasis added] No
confusion of hydrocarbons and carbohydrates is evident, except such
confusion as Sagan deliberately introduces.
Now Sagan draws his own inference: "From Velikovsky's general
thesis and the calculations [offered by Sagan in discussing manna], it
is clear that Venus should be saturated with manna." He goes on to cite
Velikovsky's claim that a search for hydrocarbons on Venus would
constitute a crucial test for his thesis. Therefore (for Sagan's
purposes) Velikovsky exhibits confusion between hydrocarbons and
Velikovsky mentions "petroleum gases"; Sagan misinterprets
this to mean "natural gas, such as methane, ethane, ethylene, and
acetylene." Since Velikovsky earlier described liquid petroleum
falling to Earth from the tail of Venus, it seems clear that his term
"petroleum gases"--particularly since he mentions heat preventing their
liquefaction on Venus--is intended to include the heavier fractions of
the petroleum mixture as well as the components of "natural gas." But
again Sagan has to ignore the gist of Velikovsky's presentation to set
the stage for a narrow little point of his own: "As I pointed out many
years ago ... the vapor pressure of simple hydrocarbons in the vicinity
of the clouds of Venus should make them detectable if they comprise the
clouds... Not one of them has been found. . . No specific organic
molecule has ever been suggested which can explain with precision the
infrared, spectrum of Venus, as it is now known." Sagan gleefully jumps
aboard the latest Venus-cloud bandwagon: "The clouds of Venus are
composed of an approximately 75% solution of sulfuric acid."
Perhaps much to Sagan's chagrin, the Venera 9 and 10 landers
have given evidence that the "clouds" of Venus are a multi-storied
structure. Only the uppermost 6-kilometer-thick formation is reported
to be cloud-like, while the underlying strata are more like haze or
smog. Something much like this could be expected on a planet with a
very hot surface and an atmosphere polluted with petroleum gases.
Venera reports even include terms like "photochemical smog" in
connection with the stratified hazes. Photochemical reactions, as on
Earth over cities with lots of sunshine and lots of automobile exhaust,
could be expected to release sulfur dioxide in abundance from heavy
hydrocarbons (in addition to that vented at the surface of a hot,
youthful planet) and quickly oxidize it to SO3, which would
then bind up all available water to form sulfuric acid solutions. And
again, as on Earth, the sulfuric acid would probably end up on top.
Sagan argues that "Observations on the wings of the critical
3.5µ region show not the slightest trace of the C-H absorption feature
common to both hydrocarbons and carbohydrates (Pollack, et al.,
1974)." However, when one checks the paper cited by Sagan, it turns out
that Pollack, et al. found a great deal of absorption between
3.05 and 3.6µ, none of which can be attributed to carbon dioxide, and
they pointedly refrain from discussing hydrocarbons in this context,
rejecting them solely on the grounds that "a feature near 2.4µ . . . is
not present in either our spectra or that of Kuiper and Forbes (1967)."
Yet there is a clear "feature" in their curve of Venus reflectivity at
precisely this location, a feature of respectable proportions compared
to nearby features attributed to CO2, the most abundant by
far of all Venus-atmosphere constituents. The same authors come out for
clouds of sulfuric-acid-solution droplets, but they emphasize that this
alone cannot explain their data.
Once again Sagan trots out his old story that hydrocarbon
clouds became listed among the findings of Mariner 2 as a result of an
off-the-cuff remark by L. D. Kaplan, "one of the experimenters on our
team." Let it be noted, first, that Sagan was off the team before
Mariner reached Venus, and possibly even before it was launched.
Kaplan's suggestions regarding hydrocarbon clouds were developed in a
series of papers in several scientific journals. As Sagan mentions,
Kaplan was indeed seeking a molecule to help explain the high
temperature of Venus in terms of Sagan's greenhouse theory, but he was
also seeking a molecule that could not only exist but even polymerize
over a great range of temperatures in the atmosphere of Venus, and what
he came up with was hydrocarbons. His subsequent studies of the
infrared spectrum of Venus led him to anticipate the multi-layered
structure of the clouds detected by the Venera 9 and 10 landers a dozen
Sagan concludes: "Velikovsky's idea that the clouds of Venus
are composed of hydrocarbons or carbohydrates is neither original nor
correct. The 'crucial test' fails." As already noted, Velikovsky said
nothing about carbohydrates on Venus; that is Sagan's insertion. But
because R. Wildt once proposed formaldehyde or one of its carbohydrate
polymers as a candidate for the clouds, Velikovsky's suggestion about
hydrocarbons is not original. And because data are twisted to the end
of not finding hydrocarbons on Venus, Velikovsky is incorrect.
We shall see.
THE TEMPERATURE OF VENUS
Sagan detours first to Mars to argue, again quite
fictitiously, that Velikovsky "believes that Mars, being a relatively
small planet, was more severely affected in its encounters with the more
massive Venus and Earth, and therefore that Mars should have a high
temperature." What Velikovsky actually had to say on this subject was
that certain observations made prior to the appearance of Worlds in
Collision indicated an excess of heat for mars. And he asked: "Does
this excess of heat come from the interior of the planet?" And he
offered an answer: "The contacts of Mars with Venus, and in a lesser
degree with the earth, less than three thousand years ago probably are
responsible for the present temperature of Mars; interplanetary electric
discharges could also initiate atomic fissions with ensuing
radioactivity and emission of heat." Thus Velikovsky does not suggest
that Mars should be hot, but rather that, if it is hot, Worlds
in Collision provides an explanation.
Sagan feigns perplexity: "It is difficult to understand this
set of errors." But in Sky & Telescope for March 1961, about the
time Sagan was starting his meteoric rise to stardom (suffering little
ablation), there appeared the following: "It has long been known that
the observed surface temperature of Mars is about 30 degrees centigrade
higher than would result from the sun shining on an airless planet at
its distance. The amount of this [supposed] greenhouse effect depends
on the abundance of carbon dioxide and water vapor in the Martian
atmosphere, and upon the infrared emissivity of the surface. Since the
quantity of carbon dioxide is known from observation, and since the
emissivity can be estimated within narrow limits, Dr. Sagan deduced that
there is between 0.02 and 0.002 gram of water over each square
So much for the excess temperature of Mars. But Viking I
found only a few micrometers of precipitable water in the atmosphere
about one to ten percent of that required for Sagan's greenhouse.
Says Sagan: "There is a planetary double standard at work."
Back to Venus, where Sagan spreads more confusion: "I find it
odd that Velikovsky does not attribute the temperature of Venus to its
ejection from Jupiter . . ; but he does not." (We recall Sagan's
injunction that Venus must have been molten through and through upon
its expulsion from Jupiter; yet only a few sentences prior to that just
quoted, the same authority claims: "Mars, even more than Venus, by
Velikovsky's argument, should be a 'hot planet.' " Velikovsky appears to
have Sagan at his wit's end.) As has been pointed out over and over
again, Velikovsky clearly attributes the heat of Venus to its "birth and
expulsion under violent conditions," among other things.
Sagan rejects Velikovsky's claim to originality in predicting
the high temperature of Venus on the grounds that Wildt devised a simple
greenhouse theory for Venus in 1940. And of course Sagan has waved the
flag for a stronger greenhouse theory since 1960. As I have tried to
show (KRONOS, Vol. 1, No. 4), the evidence now available strongly denies
the greenhouse-of-Venus theory. Velikovsky is not only right, and right
for the right reasons, but he is entirely original in his explanation
for the anomalous heat of Venus.
A new feature of Sagan's "A.A.A.S. paper is a figure
purporting to show that, contrary to Velikovsky's expectation that Venus
must be cooling off with the passage of time, "an unbiased" compilation
of data shows nothing of the kind. This is Sagan at his worst. What he
(or someone else) has assembled to prepare this figure is the history
of microwave brightness temperatures for Venus, as inferred from
observations since about 1957. Since these observations were made, in
general, at different wavelengths as the years went by, what they
actually show, if anything, is a progression of probings toward the
truth of Venus' high temperature. In no way do they indicate the
thermal history of Venus; the only history illuminated is that of
technological improvements in radio telescopes.
IX. THE CRATERS OF VENUS
Sagan writes: "The planet [Venus] is cratered, and, perhaps,
like parts of the Moon, saturation cratered . . . These craters ... are
produced almost exclusively by impact . . . Now the colliding objects
cannot have arrived at Venus in the last ten thousand years; otherwise
the Earth would be as plentifully cratered . . . the cratering process
on Venus must have taken billions of years."
Well, it is certainly not yet evident that Venus is saturation
cratered. In 1973, observations by radar (cited by Sagan) showed about
a dozen craters in an area about the size of Alaska. The Venera 9 and
10 photographs hardly suggest "that one crater overlaps the other,"
since they show not even one crater.
The significant finding would appear to be the extreme
shallowness of the craters; the largest found by radar is 160
kilometers across and only half a kilometer deep. This suggests, as was
pointed out by astrogeologist Harold Masursky at the time (1973), that
the crust of Venus is very thin and that the interior of the planet may
still be largely molten--a situation quite to be expected for a
"youthful planet," and one which makes Sagan's greenhouse theory quite
superfluous. But Sagan sees in this the results of erosion--on a
waterless planet with an atmosphere so dense and sluggish that surface
winds are quite gentle.
In insisting that only impacts can produce enormous craters,
Sagan ignores Velikovsky's descriptions of the powerful electric
discharges that played between the head and tail of comet Venus.
Certainly impact-cratering is now in its heyday as the explanation for
practically every circular feature observed on planetary surfaces. But
the time will surely come when the role of "Jovian thunderbolts" in
producing many such effects in the solar system will be recognized.
As noted before, electric discharge answers the argument that,
if one planet suffers abundant cratering at a given time, the next
planet, too, or its moon, must also become similarly scarred. The
bombardment hypothesis is built on the statistics of imagined fluxes of
debris in solar-system space. Electric discharges are necessarily
selective of their targets.
PROBLEM X. THE CIRCULARIZATION OF THE ORBIT OF VENUS AND
NON-GRAVITATIONAL FORCES IN THE SOLAR SYSTEM
Sagan admits that the odds--a favorite concept of his--"are
not absolutely overwhelming" against Velikovsky's thesis that Venus
became a planet in historical times--that is, that its orbit could have
been circularized. He claims, in his text and in his Appendix 4, that
magnetic fields could have had little to do with the process, since
"there is no way to generate anything approaching [the required] 10
megagauss field on a large scale in the solar system." But if such
fields are unnecessary, why bring them up in this connection?
Chris Sherrerd has suggested "that the plasticity of the body
of Venus might be such as to permit the conversion of energy of orbital
motion into heat by tidal friction, and that by this mechanism an orbit
initially of considerable eccentricity might be reduced to near
circularity in a brief period of time."
Furthermore, according to Sherrerd, "it seems very credible,
not only by virtue of Velikovsky's theories, but also by the physics of
tidal energy dissipation and the current knowledge of the surface
temperature of Venus ... that this indeed has happened over the past
3000 years. Also, if there exist strong electromagnetic forces,
attractive or repulsive, between Venus and the Sun, the orbit of Venus
would tend to reach circular orbit in less time than expected by
gravitational and tidal-dissipation considerations alone" (C. Sherrerd,
"Venus' Circular Orbit," Pensee 1, May, 1972, p. 43; See also the
postscript to the previous article by Velikovsky, Ibid., and
Velikovsky Reconsidered, New York: Doubleday, 1976, pp.
The theoretical research of Rose, Vaughan, Ransom, Hoffee, and
Hamilton offers additional support for the circularization of Venus
within the framework of Velikovsky's cosmological scenario (See
Velikovsky Reconsidered, Ibid., pp. 100-132; L. E. Rose, "The
Rotational Resonances of Mercury and Venus," KRONOS 11: 1, August, 1976,
pp. 23-25; R. C. Vaughan, "Orbits and Their Measurements," KRONOS 11:3,
February, 1977, pp. 31-48; A. Hamilton, "The Circularisation of
Planetary Orbits," S.I.S. Review 1:4, Spring, 1977, pp. 11-13).
In San Francisco, where Sagan presented the early versions
of these challenges to Velikovsky's "predictions," the Cornell
astronomer concluded that "Velikovsky's basic thesis ... is inescapably
untenable," It seems, however, that the statement must be turned on its
Following Sagan's presentation there was little time for
discussion or disputation before the auditorium had to be vacated, but
Velikovsky did have a chance to ask Sagan whether he would concede the
possibility of hydrocarbons in the atmosphere of Venus below the
clouds. Sagan was evasive, insisting that Velikovsky first specify the
quantity he expected, rather than ask for a yes-or-no answer.
It is noteworthy that Sagan at all times was careful to refer
to the heat of Venus as "high surface temperature." To do
otherwise would disenfranchise his greenhouse theory, for if Venus were
admitted to have even higher subsurface temperatures, that theory would
be powerless to account for them.
It would not do simply to argue that, like the Earth, Venus
has internal temperatures that increase with depth. Sagan assumes that
Venus is as old as the solar system itself. As Gutenberg pointed out
many years ago (Internal Constitution of the Earth, New York,
Dover Publications, 195 1, p. 15 1), "the heat current from the interior
of the earth ... is negligible in practically all problems concerning
the surface temperature of the earth." The same should apply to Venus,
if that planet is billions of years old. As a consequence, if the
greenhouse theory is correct, there should be a negligible, or more
likely, a "reversed" temperature gradient immediately below the surface
So when and if it is shown that Venus has a significant
"normal" subsurface temperature gradient--an effect implicit in
Masursky's suggestion to account for the extreme shallowness of that
planet's craters--that finding should sound the death knell for the
Many participants in the AAAS symposium were understandably
disturbed over what might be called a hit-and-run performance by Sagan, who
took leave of the proceedings immediately after the morning session.
Following Velikovsky's talk and a discussion period in which
Sagan and Velikovsky debated the question of organic compounds in the clouds
of Venus, Ivan King announced that the next two speakers--Mulholland and
Sagan--would be heard in direct succession, without discussion, and then,
following Sagan's talk, there would be time for "some more
discussion, which I hope will be brief."
From King's remark that "we have two full hours for discussion
this evening," it was apparent that, at this point, King had no idea that
Sagan was planning to skip out on the evening discussion period.
But during Mulholland's talk he got the word. When King
stepped up to introduce Sagan, he said: "I wish to qualify . . . what I said
earlier. Unfortunately, Dr. Sagan will not be available--will not be able
to be with us this evening on account of a previous commitment . . ."
Following Sagan's presentation, Velikovsky wondered out loud
at Sagan's having a "previous commitment" that would upset a schedule that
had been firm for at least six months.
At the close of the morning session an irate member of the
audience got King's attention and suggested that Sagan should be asked "to
make the sacrifice" of passing up his outside appointment in favor of
completing the commitment to science implicit in his initial agreement to
participate in the Velikovsky symposium. This prompted a short speech by
King: "When I was describing the genesis of this symposium, I [said] that
the AAAS had put the symposium together out of a feeling that the work of
Dr. Velikovsky was worth presenting at a public forum. What I did not
mention at that time was that Professor Sagan is not only a vigorous
defender of science, he is also a vigorous defender of scientific freedom.
And the suggestion that we hold this symposium came originally from
Professor Sagan" [sic].
This, of course, implied that Sagan's commitment to the symposium was of
even longer duration than that of any other participant. It did little to
still the waters troubled by the announcement of his planned early departure.
And what was the nature of Sagan's prior engagement. He had
to travel to Los Angeles for an appearance on the Johnny Carson television
program--an appearance quite unlikely to have been scheduled more than a few
weeks in advance.
For a further reduction of the necessary "escape velocity", see Velikovsky's own
reply to Sagan elsewhere in this issue. - The Ed.
But see I. Asimov, "Toro: A Defense of Space Exploration,"
Intellectual Digest (July, 1972), PP. 74-78; L. M. Greenberg,
"Critics and Collisions," Chiron 1, Nos. 1 & 2
(Winter-Spring, 1974), pp. 27-28; R. Treash, "Is Asteroid Toro a
Remnant of Comet-Planet Collision?", Pensee II (Fall, 1972),
pp. 43-44; New York Sunday News, 2/l/76 - "Asteroid Found,
Earth Collision is Foreseen". -- The Ed.
Conventional chronology tentatively dates the titanic eruption of
Thera to the fifteenth century B.C. and Sagan himself (pp. 64-65
of his 1976 version) makes reference to Thera's volcanic activity.
However, Sagan errs on several counts: 1) He cites an error-riddled
article by Cyclone Covey from the Anthropological Journal of
Canada, Jan., 1975 (a separate full rebuttal to Covey will be
forthcoming); 2) The final convulsion of Thera in antiquity would
have occurred during the tenth century B.C. and not the
fifteenth, according to the revised chronology--See KRONOS 1:2
(June, 1975), pp. 93-99; 3) The exact cause of Thera's eruption has
not been determined; 4) Much disagreement still exists over the
supposed date of the Theran eruption, even among conventional
scholarship; 5) The eruption of Thera could not have accounted for
the global catastrophes collated by Velikovsky; 6) The volcanic
activity of Thera does fail within the time parameters of
Worlds in Collision regardless of the chronological scheme that
one follows; 7) References to the tertiary work of de Camp and
Vitaliano are highly inadequate for the subject at hand.
In addition to the Theran volcano, the reader is referred to the
August 1970 issue Science Digest (p. 48) where it is stated
that Mt. Rainier erupted about 3500 years ago and two river
valleys were filled by deposits to depths of 700 or 800 feet (See
also Pensee Winter, 1973-74, pp. 53-54 and n. 38); Earth
in Upheaval, "Volcanoes, Earthquakes, Comets".--The Ed.
But see Earth in Upheaval, "Supplement--Recent Finds in
Geology," pp. 286-287; F. Dachille, "Interactions of the Earth With
Very Large Meteorites," Bulletin of South Carolina Academy
of Science, Vol. 24, 1962; New York Times, 10/24/76, p.
26; Science News, 8/6/77, p. 86; Ibid., 8/13/77, p. 102;
New York Times, 6/15/77, p. D21; Science News, 3/27/76,
p. 196; New Scientist, 24 March 1977, pp. 689-692.--The
The original proposal for a AAAS symposium dealing with Velikovsky's
work came from Walter Orr Roberts and is documented in a letter to
Stephen L. Talbott, editor of Pensee, dated July 18, 1972 and
one to Dr. Walter Berl of the AAAS, dated September 6, 1972. The