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Open letter to science editors

KRONOS Vol III, No. 2

ON MORRISON: SOME PRELIMINARY REMARKS

RALPH E. JUERGENS

[This contribution was prepared as a memorandum to Dr. Velikovsky, hence its unfinished, outline format. More detailed criticism of Morrison will appear at a subsequent time.]

In November 1973, Dr. David Morrison of the Institute for Astronomy, University of Hawaii, submitted a paper titled "Astronomical Evidence For and Against Recent Planetary Catastrophism" to the journal Pensée. Morrison's paper was criticised by Pensée's editorial staff (now affiliated with KRONOS) and revised accordingly. After undergoing revision, the paper was presented at the symposium–"Velikovsky and the Recent History of the Solar System"–held at McMaster University, June 1974. Additional criticism engendered a second revision in November 1974. That paper is now scheduled to appear in a forthcoming book from Cornell University Press–Scientists Confront Velikovsky–even though Morrison had nothing to do with the February 1974 AAAS symposium upon which the book is loosely based.

The commentary offered herein refers to the second revised version of Morrison's paper. The pagination numbers match those of the typewritten text.

Hydrocarbons on Venus

Morrison (p. 5):

"In contrast to that of Jupiter, the atmosphere of Venus is oxidised.... the visible clouds of Venus are composed of sulphuric acid droplets . . . there is no evidence of hydrocarbons in the clouds or any other part of the visible atmosphere of Venus; in particular, the absence of the strong spectral band near 3.5 micrometers that is produced by the C-H bond common to all hydrocarbons sets stringent upper limits. .. [on] hydrocarbons..."


Notice that Morrison is careful to employ the adjective "visible" at crucial points in his discussion, thus leaving himself a loophole should future investigations disclose hydrocarbons below the cloud tops.

It may be advantageous to acknowledge the successes of the H2SO4 interpretation and reason, with hindsight, that the presence of sulfates in the uppermost cloud layer could (should?) have been predicted on the basis of Velikovsky's twin proposals that the atmosphere is heated from below and is highly polluted with hydrocarbons. Presumably a youthful planet would be actively volcanic, and volcanic eruptions on Earth, even today, strongly influence the secular concentrations of sulphate ions in the stratosphere (W. Kellogg, et al., Science 175, 587, 11 Feb. '72). Also, heavy hydrocarbons, as in unrefined petroleum and coal, contain abundant sulphur that contributes to S02 pollution and is ultimately oxidised to SO3 and then bound up with H2O to form H2SO4 in the upper atmosphere (ibid.; and A. Haagen-Smit, Scientific American 210, 25, Jan. '64). That the clouds of Venus, below the uppermost, highly reflecting layer, are arrayed in several strata of the consistency of haze or smog is highly suggestive of photochemical reactions based on hydrocarbon pollution (cf. F. Went, Scientific American, 63, May '55; A. Haagen-Smit, ibid.; T. Maugh II, Science 189, 277, 25 July '75; R. Cadle, et al., Science 167, 243, 16 Jan. '70).

The Venera 9 and 10 investigators appear to have concluded that the clouds of Venus may be photochemical smog (Science News 111, 252, Apr. 16, '77). They refer to " 'provisional' layering in all but the uppermost 6 km" (ibid.), which suggests that, as proposed above, the uppermost cloud deck differs from the underlying formations. Kaplan long ago deduced such structure from the infrared spectrum of Venus (J. Quant. Spectr. & Radiative Transfer, 3, 537, 1963). Photochemical smog on Earth forms in stagnant air below temperature inversions, ending abruptly at such inversions, above which ordinary clouds form (cf. F. Went, op. cit.).

For years, atmospheric scientists and Venus-greenhouse enthusiasts have been having great difficulty devising atmospheric-circulation systems compatible with the known facts about Venus: the dense atmosphere; the slow rotation; the high surface temperature. The emphasis of all models has been on the delivery of heat from the Sun to the night side of Venus, and the slow rotation and the atmospheric density have imposed impossible problems. The Venera findings of minimal wind velocities have compounded the difficulties more than ever. But if the lower atmosphere were recognised as a global stagnation "basin", polluted with hydrocarbon gases and heated from below by the internal heat of a youthful planet, an acceptable model would undoubtedly be forthcoming with little difficulty.

Carbohydrates on Mars

Morrison (p. 6):

"Velikovsky . . . predicted that the polar caps of Mars are composed of hydrocarbons . . . The first direct and unambiguous data on their composition was [sic] provided by the infrared radiometer experiment on the Mariner 6 and 7 flybys in 1969, which showed that the temperature of the evaporating edge of the cap corresponded to the vaporisation temperature of carbon dioxide and was incompatible with water ice. Subsequent thermal and spectroscopic evidence confirms that the bulk of the caps are [sic] carbon dioxide but strongly suggests that the 'remanent' caps that survive through the Martian summer consist of water ice. In contrast, the spectroscopic upper limits on the amount of hydrocarbons that might be present are a few parts per million."


In the first place, Velikovsky suggested that the Martian polar caps are "of the nature of carbon" and referred to the material as "manna", i.e. carbohydrates rather than hydrocarbons.

The Sinton Bands

In the late 1950's, W. Sinton reported first one, then two more absorption bands of organic molecules in the reflection spectrum of Mars (Astrophys. J. 126, 231, Sept. '57; Science 130, 1234, 1959). His controversial claim that these bands were due to carbohydrates on Mars was discussed for several years (N. Colthup, Science 134, 529, 25 Aug. '61; W. Sinton, ibid.; F. Salisbury, Science 136, 17, 6 Apr. '62; D. Rea et al., Science 141, 924, 6 Sept. '63; J. Shirk, et al., Science 147, 48, 1 Jan. '65; and elsewhere), then abruptly abandoned (D. Rea, B. O'Leary and W. Sinton, Science 147, 1286, 12 Mar. '65), although even the most critical and carefully contrived reexamination of the evidence by Rea, O'Leary, and Sinton disposed of only two of the originally reported three carbohydrate bands. There remained the most obvious of the bands, that at 3.45m. This one has not yet been explained away, and S. Glasstone writes (The Book of Mars, NASA 1968, p. 220): "the third band . . . which is really more typical than the others of the C-H linkage . . . may be due to organic compounds or even to carbohydrates on the Martian surface." (Sinton first reported this band at 3.43m but later corrected himself and placed it at 3.45m.) Nevertheless, most authors now appear to assume that the Sinton bands have been completely discredited (see, e.g., C. Michaux, Handbook of the Physical Properties of the Planet Mars, NASA 1967, p. 135).

In 1966 J. and P. Connes and L. Kaplan reported (Science 153, 739, 12 Aug. '66) Martian infrared bands suggesting the presence of "reduced gases, including substituted methanes." This and later observations by the same team were played up in the popular press some months later (e.g., Newsweek, Oct. 31, 1966; Time, Nov. 4, 1966) as possible indications of life on Mars, and Kaplan was said to have suggested that "Mars has a concentration of hydrogen compounds in its atmosphere 1,000 times greater than the earth's." But these findings were later attributed to "instrumental factors" (cf. S. Glasstone, The Book of Mars, NASA 1968, p. 81).

In 1960 (J. Geophys. Res. 65, 3057) E. Öpik suggested that the blue haze of Mars could be due to soot-like particles from the breakdown of hydrocarbons. This blue haze occasionally clears. In 1963 (Sky & Telescope, July '63, p. 17) E. Both noted that temporary increases in polar-cap size often precede instances of "blue clearing" in the atmosphere, as if "the opacity of the violet [blue] layer is somehow associated with the behavior of the polar caps."

According to K. Biemann, et al. (Science 194, 72, 1 Oct. '76), the Viking landers on Mars are incapable of detecting such highly volatile organic compounds as CH4, C2H2, C2H4, C2H6, CH3OH, CH2O, HCN, and C3H4-8.

C. Farmer, et al. (Science 194, 1339, 17 Dec. '76) and H. Kieffer et al. (Science 194, 1341, 17 Dec. '76) argue that mid-summer temperatures detected at the Martian north pole by the Viking orbiters are too high for CO2 ice, and that therefore the polar caps must consist primarily of H2O ice. They consider no other possibility as to the composition of the caps.

If, as Velikovsky suggests, the polar caps are largely of carbohydrate matter, the fact that midsummer temperatures at the poles reach 205°K (-68°C) does not rule out such materials. Nor does the seasonal presence of other solids, e.g., H2O and CO2 ices, preclude the permanent presence of organic solids. The spectroscopic upper limits on hydrocarbons in the overlying atmosphere tell us very little, if the deposits themselves are only slightly volatile and are most of the time buried beneath ices.

Spectrometric data from Mariner 7 showed methane and ammonia near the edge of the Martian south polar cap (Science News 96, 129, Aug. 16, '69; Scientific American, Sept. '69), at least in the initial interpretation. But the diagnosis was quickly changed to CO2 ice, because "a thick layer of dry ice could produce special characteristics similar to those of methane and ammonia" (Time, Sept. 19, '69). K. Herr and G. Pimental, in their official account (Science 166, 496, 24 Oct. '69) of this business, remark: "We believe that the same [dry ice] explanation is probably applicable to the Martian spectral feature at 3020 cm-l. The appearance and frequency of the feature are also consistent with the spectrum of gaseous methane, but the more mundane explanation seems more likely." But they also remark: "There remains the need to explain the lack of intensity correlation between the bands . ., if they are all to be attributed to solid CO2. Furthermore, we must rationalise the disappearance of these features at the more southerly latitudes if the polar cap near the pole is attributed to solid CO2." But was this ever done?

Argon and Neon on Mars

Morrison (p. 6):

"Velikovsky . . . predicted . . . that a substantial fraction of the atmosphere of Mars would consist of argon and/or neon. . . At most 10% can . . . consist of argon or neon."


Velikovsky offered no estimate of the abundances of these gases, suggesting only that they may be present "in rich amounts." This would seem to require some comparison with the Earth to assess the enrichment of argon and neon on Mars.

In the Earth's atmosphere, argon and neon together make up less than 1% by volume of the total gaseous mixture. A typical analysis gives these individual percentages: argon–0.934; neon–0.0000182.

T. Owen and K. Biemann (Science 193, 801, 27 Aug. '76) find from Viking data that argon is present in the atmosphere of Mars as 1 to 2% of the total volume and that neon (undetected) cannot exceed 10 ppm (0.001%). Nevertheless, they conclude, on the basis of speculations concerning the history of Mars, that "The 40Ar may be anomalously abundant on Mars." (They find the ratio 36Ar/40Ar on Mars to be less by a factor of 10 than that on the Earth.)

Thermal Balance of Mars

Morrison (p. 8):

"Thermal emission from a large fraction of the surface has been mapped in broad infrared bands near 10 and 20 micrometers from the Mariner 6, 7 and 9 spacecraft and the data carefully analysed in terms of the thermal properties of the surface. As a consequence, the thermal behaviour of this planet is the best understood of any except Earth and Moon. All of the temperatures are consistent with equilibrium conditions; there is no indication of an internal heat source. . . On what basis Velikovsky concluded that the early measurements suggested anomalously high temperatures is not clear; as reviewed in 1960, for instance, the data from the 1920's and 30's all gave subsolar temperatures on Mars of 273 to 300°K, in excellent agreement with both theoretical expectations and modern spacecraft data."


In 1958 C. Mayer et al. reported (Astrophys. J. 127, 11) on radiotelescopic observations of thermal radiation from Mars made in Sept. '56. They also compared their findings with infrared findings of others: "The infrared measurements give a black-body temperature of about 260°K averaged over the disk. . . The radio result gave a black-body temperature of about 218° ± 76°K. . . Since both values are based on black-body emission, it is probable that the true temperature of the emitting material is higher than these values but probably not by the same amount. It is also probable that the radio measurements refer to a slightly deeper and cooler level beneath the surface of Mars, as the longer-wave-length radiation would be expected to propagate more readily through the planetary crust . . . the two measurements are considered consistent."

F. Gifford, Jr. (Astrophys. J. 123, 154, 1956) collected radiometric data obtained between 1926 and 1943 to produce surface-climate maps of Mars in which maximum temperatures exceeded 300K.

W. Sinton and J. Strong (Astrophys. J. 131,459,1960) reported radiometric observations indicating "center of the disk" temperature to be 15°C (288°K). The observations were made in July 1954.

In the mid-1960's, Sinton obtained a temperature of 240°K in the infrared (cf. Sky & Telescope, Oct. '65).

In 1969 D. Morrison mapped the daytime temperatures of Mars with a maximum in the bright areas of 303°K (Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory Special Report No. 284).

Item in Science News 100, 408 (Dec. 18, 1971): ". . . a discrepancy in the measurements of the temperature of whatever on Mars is emitting 8.57-millimeter waves. Observations before 1969 gave 210 to 235 degrees K. A more recent measurement gave 176 ± 5 degrees. In the Dec. 1 Astrophysical Journal Letters, P. M. Kalaghan and L. E. Telford of the Air Force Cambridge Research Laboratories report that observations taken during the recent close approach of Mars gave 175 ± 15 degrees." Is Mars cooling?

Glasstone (The Book of Mars, p. 132) calculates that the subsolar point on Mars, at the average distance from the Sun, should have a maximum black-body temperature of 299°K.

Michaux (Handbook . . ., p. 54) calculates that the average annual surface temperature of Mars should be 207.6°K, except for the greenhouse effect, which should increase the figure, at most, to 233°K. He points out that the maximum temperature at the subsolar point, assuming locked rotation, would be 293.6°K (or, with a different albedo, 307°K). He goes on to cite various findings that the average surface temperature is 245, 260, and 230°K. He lists five theoretical and methodological uncertainties in all determinations.

See also C. J. Ransom, The Age of Velikovsky, pp. 132-133.

From an item in Sky & Telescope for March 1961: "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 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. [Carl] Sagan deduced that there is between 0.02 and 0.002 gram of water over each square centimeter."

Viking 1 found only a few micrometers of precipitable water in the atmosphere–little more than one-tenth of Sagan's minimum water requirement. It is not clear how much CO2 Sagan assumed as given, but since 1961 estimates of the total mass of the Martian atmosphere have been drastically reduced.

The Thermal Balance of Venus

Morrison (p. 9):

"That Venus has a 'hot' surface and a large internal heat source is perhaps the most widely quoted prediction made by Velikovsky . . . however, . . . the total energy radiated from Venus is equivalent to that from a blackbody of about 230K, just what one would expect in the absence of any internal energy source . . .'' etc., etc.


See R. E. Juergens, "Velikovsky and the Heat of Venus," KRONOS, Winter '76.

One might quibble that Velikovsky did not predict an internal heat "source" in the usual sense of the word, but rather a "residuum" of natal and acquired heat that has not yet been dissipated.

That an atmosphere can be so dense as to damp out diurnal variations in received solar radiation when the planet's day is 2800 or so hours long is a ridiculous idea. It is even more ridiculous when nightside temperatures are higher than those of the dayside, as with Venus.

A photochemical-smog interpretation of the clouds of Venus would lead to a prediction that at least some of the smog would dissipate at night, due to a termination of photochemical reactions, letting heat escape faster from the nightside than from the dayside and raising the temperatures of the cloud tops. The same thinning of the overcast might permit the faintly luminous surface to shine through between the highest clouds (sulfuric acid?) and be observed as the "reddish-brown" ashen light. In any case, the higher temperatures of the nightside, as Velikovsky recognised in WiC, imply enhanced output of heat, not the input sought so frustratingly by atmospheric scientists sold on the greenhouse theory. Perhaps the 250-mph winds interpreted as evidence of 4-day rotation in the high atmosphere of Venus are related to such an enhanced efflux of heat from the nightside. The ionosphere of Venus apparently takes the form of a comet's head, and it may well be that the planet not only is losing heat, but atmosphere as well, with the passage of time. As on Earth, the coolest "air" may be found where surface heat is being lost most rapidly by radiation (night).

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