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KRONOS Vol III, No. 2
SAGAN'S "TEN PLAGUES"
RALPH E. JUERGENS
PROBLEM I. 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. (1) 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, 1976, 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."(2)
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.
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, p. 294, Dover edition, 1959); Urey (Nature 242, 32, March 2, 1973) 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 (Pensée I, 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.
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 (Pensée 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.
Sagan claims that there was nothing unusual about the intensity of terrestrial volcanism during the period Velikovsky assigns for the 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. McBirney 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 years ago appears to be geologically unrecorded (but see S. Porter, Science 172, 375 [23 April 1971] concerning an episode of unusual activity at Mauna Kea Volcano, Hawaii, dated at about 4500 years ago).(3)
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 device.
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)?(4)
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 kilometer across."
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; Pensée I, 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."(5)
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"?
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 Bundahis, (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 critical scrutiny."
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 with.
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.
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 carbohydrates.
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 3.5 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 3.6, 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 2.4 . . . 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 years later.
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.
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 centimeter."
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." Indeed.
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 wits' 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.
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," Pensée I, May, 1972, p. 43; See also the postscript to the previous article by Velikovsky, Ibid., and Velikovsky Reconsidered, New York: Doubleday, 1976, pp. 92-93, 132-133).
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 II: 1, August, 1976, pp. 23-25; R. C. Vaughan, "Orbits and Their Measurements," KRONOS II:3, February, 1977, pp. 31-48; A. Hamilton, "The Circularisation of Planetary Orbits," S.I.S. Review I: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 author.
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, 1951, p. 151), "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 of Venus.
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 greenhouse theory.
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].(6) 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.
Notes1. For a further reduction of the necessary "escape velocity", see item no. 2 on p.32 in Velikovsky's own reply to Sagan elsewhere in this issue. - The Ed.
2. 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?", Pensée II (Fall, 1972), pp. 43-44; New York Sunday News, 2/l/76 - "Asteroid Found, Earth Collision is Foreseen". – The Ed.
3. 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 fall 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 of
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 Pensée VI, Winter,
1973-74, pp. 53-54 and n. 38); Earth in Upheaval, "Volcanoes, Earthquakes, Comets".–The Ed.