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KRONOS Vol IV, No. 4

For the Record . . .

VELIKOVSKY AND VENUS: A Preliminary Report on the Pioneer Probes

LEWIS M. GREENBERG

"Fantastic! It's unbelievable!" -

Dr. Lawrence Colin (Chief scientist of the Pioneer-Venus mission)
"We've got to rethink the whole formation theories of the inner planets of the solar system. " - Dr. John Hoffman (Head of the mass spectrometer team for Pioneer Venus 2)
"It's a totally unexpected result that we've come up with." -Dr. Michael McElroy Harvard University physicist)
"It certainly is back to the drawing boards. " -Dr. Thomas Donahue (University of Michigan physicist who designed the 30 experiments carried out in the Venusian atmosphere)

Thus ran some of the reactions of the scientific community in the wake of Pioneer Venus 2's descent to that planet last December 9.

The initial influx of data from the Venus probe was virtually overwhelming. At Mountain View, California, a computer line-printer disgorged "strange numbers onto a white roll of paper". Scientists anxiously and excitedly scanned the reams of computer printouts. By late afternoon of December 9 came the realization that "the numbers would radically alter accepted thinking about the formation of the solar system".

"What the numbers demonstrated was that the atmosphere of Venus, the planet nearest to our own in terms of size and distance and the second planet from the sun, is so alien to Earth's that it might just as well have been born of another solar system" (The Dallas Morning News, 12/17/78, p. 37A).

ARGON-36

Argon-36, or "primordial argon" as it has been termed, was found to be either 100 or 500 times as abundant on Venus as on Earth. The presence of unexpectedly large quantities of argon-36 - a kind of primordial legacy - "implied, very strongly, that the sun and its nine planets, to say nothing of innumerable moons and asteroids, may not have been formed all of a whole, as had been believed. They probably were born in some other, as yet mysterious, way" (Dallas Morning News, Ibid. )

Dr. John H. Hoffman, a physicist from the University of Texas at Dallas and head of the mass spectrometer team for Pioneer Venus 2, offered two ad hoc explanations for the excessive argon-36:

" 'Either Venus was made out of different materials from Earth's, just as there are different classes of meteorites with various amounts of argon . . . or else, it's possible that billions of years ago, when the gases in the solar nebular were condensing, the argon gas density near the center was much higher than elsewhere, and Venus was in a much denser area' " (DMN, Ibid.). For all his speculating, Hoffman avoided the notion that the quantity of argon-36 could be indicative of a youthful Venus. Indeed, when the name of Velikovsky came into play, the usual misrepresentations of Worlds in Collision occurred and were quickly followed by typical jocularity and derision.

"On hearing the news about argon-36, an Edison, N. J., man cabled a simple message to Hoffman and Harvard physicist Michael McElroy, who were ensconced in Mountain View. 'Emanuel Velikovski was right about Venus,' the telegram read.

" 'I haven't read anything by Velikovski,' Hoffman said, 'but I believe he wrote a book saying Venus was not part of the solar system and that it was somehow captured by gravity. I think he might be a kook' " (DMN, Ibid.).

In reporting on the argon-36 discovery, John Noble Wilford of the New York Times, repeated the canard:

"Dr. [Richard] Hodges [also of the University of Texas] made a joke, suggesting that perhaps the mission had proved one of the controversial theories of Immanuel Velikovsky. In several books, Mr. Velikovsky has contended that Venus originated outside the solar system and was later captured by the sun's gravity.

" 'I don't think so,' Dr. Hoffman said. 'Venus has a very circular orbit. If it came from outside the solar system, it probably would have a highly elliptical orbit, like most comets' " (NYT, 12/19/78, pp. C1, C3).

Nowhere did Velikovsky ever state that Venus "came from outside the solar system". He has claimed that it was born from Jupiter; and there are whole sections of Worlds in Collision that deal with Venus' earlier elliptical orbit (e.g., "The Birth of Venus", "The Blazing Star", "The Comet Venus", "Venus Moves Irregularly", "Venus Becomes the Morning Star", "The Thermal Balance of Venus") and the problems involved in its obtaining a later near circular orbit ("What Caused Venus and Mars to Shift Their Orbits?", "Lucifer Cut Down", "The Epilogue").

The problem of Venus' circular orbit has also been treated by Chris S. Sherrerd ("Venus' Circular Orbit," Velikovsky Reconsidered, pp. 132-133);* and again by Velikovsky in a published reply to W. T. Plummer: "Venus is hot enough now to have many metals on its surface in a molten state; in my opinion, its body was all molten or plastic not so long ago. Approaching the Sun on an elliptical orbit, as I have claimed that it did as a protoplanet, it had some of its energy of motion converted by tidal friction into heat. This tended 1) to keep the body plastic or molten and 2) to decrease the elongation of its orbit with each passage around the Sun, thereby minimizing the energy loss from tidal friction and resulting in an almost circular orbit" ( Velikovsky Reconsidered, p. 169).

(*Footnote:Also see '*The Electromagnetic Circularization of Planetary Orbits" by Chris S. Sherrerd elsewhere in this issue.)

New Scientist (80:916, 1978) may have come closer to the truth of the matter when it reported on Venus' argon-36: "The significance of argon-36 is that it is supposed to be primordial argon; that is, an argon isotope formed when the solar system was created. Since argon-36 is radioactive, most of the originally created supply should have disintegrated and disappeared over the four-billion-year history of the solar system. Indeed, the atmospheres of earth and Mars have much, much smaller quantities of argon-36 than Venus. Venus, therefore, may have an origin different from those of earth and Mars - either a much more recent birth (so that the argon-36 has not disintegrated), or an altogether different kind of origin in which more argon-36 was created than for earth and Mars" (emphasis added) .

The relatively abundant argon-36 discovered in the Venusian atmosphere produced one more cosmogonical problem. From generally accepted concepts of how the planets were formed, it was expected that argon-36 should be less plentiful on Venus than Earth or Mars, not more so.

"Conventional theory has it that Earth is depleted in light inert gases, such as argon and neon, because the young Sun became so hot that its 'solar wind' blew the inner planets clear of such material.

"In that case the closer a planet is to the Sun the more it should be depleted in argon [36] and neon. Exactly the opposite has been found. Mars, the most distant of the inner planets, is purest in such gases. Venus, the closest (apart from Mercury, which has virtually no atmosphere) has the most [emphasis added] .

"One explanation offered by Dr. David Black, chief of the theoretical branch at [NASA-Ames], is that in its final stages of formation, when the Sun was heated by material falling on to it - but not by nuclear fires - it sucked the lighter inner gases toward itself and the center of the solar system where the residual material became part of the newly forming planets" (New York Times, 1/25/79, p. A16).

There is another possibility, however. In 1972, Lynn E. Rose offered the hypothesis that "Mars 3000 years ago was an inner planet" (i.e. Mars was on an orbit closer to the Sun than Earth - see Pensée IVR I, pp. 42-43; Velikovsky Reconsidered, pp. 100-102). Thus, if Mars was once an inner planet and, as argued by Velikovsky, Venus originated in the outer part of the solar system before achieving its present orbit - all in historical times - the relative quantity of argon-36 found on Venus, Earth, and Mars might be explained by the earlier orbital positions of those planetary bodies with regard to the Sun. Additionally, from a Velikovskian perspective, it is unnecessary to omit Mercury from the planetary sequence as conventional theory now requires; and no ad hoc theory has to be hastily constructed in the face of discovering "exactly the opposite" to what was expected.

- The forthcoming probe of Jupiter by Voyager 2 will not only tell us much more about that dynamic celestial body in general, it may also reveal the presence of a significant amount of argon-36 in particular.

- As for Venus, "it's back to the drawing board".

HYDROCARBONS

In Worlds in Collision, Velikovsky suggested that "When the technique of photography in the infrared is perfected so that hydrocarbon bands can be differentiated, the spectrogram of Venus may disclose the presence of hydrocarbon gases in its atmosphere, if these gases lie in the upper part of the atmosphere where the rays of the sun penetrate" ("The Gases of Venus").

On page x of the Delta edition of Worlds in Collision (1965), Velikovsky made reference to his 1946 correspondence with Professor Rupert Wildt of Yale and Professor Walter S. Adams of Mount Wilson and Palomar observatories wherein he had indicated that "the presence of hydrocarbon gases and dust in the cloud envelope of Venus would constitute a crucial test for the cosmological concepts evolved from the study of historical sources".

In the April 1967 Yale Scientific Magazine, Velikovsky reiterated his expectation (actually written in 1963) that hydrocarbons would be found in the Venusian atmosphere: "While the ground temperature of Venus is ca. 800F hot, the envelope that begins 45 miles above the ground and is ten to fifteen miles thick has a temperature of 200F on the inside and -40F on the outside. In order to be rather homogeneous at such divergent temperatures and serve as a heat barrier, the envelope must consist of compounds that can condense and polymerize at such temperatures; more exactly it must be rich in CH radicals polymerized to heavy molecular compounds. These would be hydrocarbons. . ." (p. 11; reprinted in KRONOS IV:3, February 1979, p. 65).

In 1969, Velikovsky prepared a paper titled "Venus and Hydrocarbons" as a reply to an earlier paper by William T. Plummer that was published in Science ("Venus Clouds: Test for Hydrocarbons", Vol. 163, March 14, 1969, pp. 1191-92). Velikovsky's paper was not published until 1974, however, when it appeared in Pensée IVR VI. The article was then reprinted along with Plummer's in Velikovsky Reconsidered (1976, pp. 164-171). Velikovsky had this to say:

"As I clearly stated in 1950, the evidence of the presence of hydrocarbons and their derivatives in the atmosphere of Venus should be sought deeper in the infrared. The infrared absorption of hydrocarbons is pronounced in the 3.4-3.5-micron range and in several other ranges of longer wavelengths. The 8-12-micron region is especially suited for tracing hydrocarbons and their derivatives, for between eight and thirteen microns carbon dioxide absorbs only slightly and water vapor absorbs not at all. Actually, wide and strongly expressed bands were observed in the infrared spectrum of Venus in the 3.5-micron range (starting at 2.8 and continuing past 3.8) and again in the 8-13-micron region. . . .

"In the hot and oxidizing atmosphere of Venus, chemical reactions must be occurring. Mueller, writing on the 'Origin of the Atmosphere of Venus,' referred to the 'instabilities of the hydrocarbon compounds in an anhydrous, oxidizing hot environment'. I assume that (a) in the lower, high-pressure layers, a cracking of most hydrocarbons to hydrogen and smaller CH units is occurring, which may be polymerizing to give aromatic hydrocarbons of higher and higher molecular weight; (b) in the middle layers, hydrocarbons are being converted into CO2 and H2O. . .; and (c) in the higher layers, water is being dissociated by the ultraviolet rays of the sun, with H escaping - actually hydrogen has been observed in Venus' upper atmosphere. Whereas Venus' atmosphere is oxidizing, its upper atmosphere is reducing - a fact which, when first discovered, seemed surprising. This also explains why only a small quantity of water is present in transition between the two reactions.

"Another process possibly occurring on Venus is a bacterial transformation of hydrocarbons into carbohydrates and proteins (previously discussed by me in 1951, prior to the conversion of asphalt into food products by a similar action)."

For additional discussion of hydrocarbons in the atmosphere of Venus, the reader is referred to Velikovsky's article "Venus' Atmosphere" also to be found in Velikovsky Reconsidered (pp. 193-209)

The possible presence of hydrocarbons in the Venusian atmosphere was pooh-poohed by Carl Sagan in 1974 (at the AAAS Symposium on Worlds in Collision); in 1977 (Scientists Confront Velikovsky, pp. 73-78), and again in 1979 (Broca's Brain, pp. 109-113). David Morrison, of the University of Hawaii, has been likewise emphatic that "there is no evidence of hydrocarbons in the clouds or in any other part of the visible atmosphere of Venus" (Scientists Confront Velikovsky, p. 155). Morrison did concede that "This does not seem to . . . be as strong an argument against a Jovian origin for Venus as is provided by the bulk composition, however, since the atmosphere represents a negligible fraction of the mass of Venus, and it is possible to imagine substantial atmospheric evolution on a time scale as short even as a few thousand years" (SCV, Ibid. ).

Nevertheless, Sagan's and Morrison's opinions notwithstanding, the April 1979 issue of Popular Science (p. 67) reported the following: "First [John H.] Hoffman stunned his colleagues by reporting that the atmosphere [of Venus] contains 300 to 500 times as much argon-36 as Earth. Then he found indications in his data that the lower atmosphere of Venus may be rich in methane" (emphasis added).

Methane is, of course, the simplest hydrocarbon and is also a constituent of the Jovian atmosphere.

Scientists pondered the possibility that the methane might be responsible for an unexplained visible glow in Venus' lower atmosphere (more on this below). Dr. Thomas Donahue, of the University of Michigan, thought it possible. " 'But we're being very skeptical about the methane reading,' he added. 'It could be an artifact (a residue from Earth) or it could be an important finding. It will take quite a while to verify' " (Popular Science, Ibid., pp. 67, 172).

This time, however, there was no mention of Velikovsky. Evidently, the joking now had a hollow ring; and reports of hydrocarbon clouds on Venus can no longer be claimed as apocryphal.

Additionally, Venus appears to have three distinct cloud layers containing various size particles; and according to Robert Knollenberg, principle investigator for the cloud particle size spectrometer, "the smallest particles probably are sulfuric acid . . . . the slightly larger particles could be anything, but their sharp spectral peak indicates that they probably are in the liquid state. The largest particles are liquid and solid sulfur" (Aviation Week & Space Technology, 1/1/79, p. 40, emphasis added).

  • Every effort should now be made to verify the presence of methane in Venus' atmosphere; and other hydrocarbons should be looked for with greater seriousness as well.
  • Velikovsky's "crucial test" looms as a more potent challenge than ever before.

SULFUR

Back in 1974, Velikovsky engaged in a debate with Albert W. Burgstahler over the composition of Venus' atmosphere (Pensée IVR VI). Velikovsky's remarks were subsequently reprinted in Velikovsky Reconsidered (1976, pp. 193-209). The recent discoveries made by Pioneer-Venus and Voyager 1 revealed, among other things, the presence of Venusian sulfur in various states and ionized sulfur in a plasma cloud circling Jupiter. These findings have particular relevance to Velikovsky's earlier discourse.

". . . of the presence of sulfur on Venus, in addition to iron and organic material, I [Velikovsky] was conscious some twenty years in advance of the Youngs [ see Astrophysical Journal, 179 (1973); Icarus, 18 (1973)].

"On January 28, 1945, I registered a lecture copyright titled 'Transmutation of Oxygen into Sulfur.' This was over six months before the fission (atom) bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and years before a fusion (thermonuclear) process was worked out. In my understanding, the phenomenon of brimstone (sulfur) falling from the sky (or filling the air) in the course of great discharges, as narrated in ancient sources (Old Testament and Homer among them), resulted from smashing two oxygen atoms into one atom of sulfur. I assumed that, on Jupiter and on Venus, sulfur must be present; on Jupiter because it acquired much of the water of Saturn after Saturn exploded, and in great thunderbolts [see Science News, Vol. 115, 3/17/79, p.172; Ibid., 5/5/79, p. 294; Ibid., 5/12/79, p. 312; New Scientist, 4/5/79, p. 22] converted the oxygen of the water into sulfur; and on Venus because it brought sulfur from its parental body, Jupiter, and also because in violent discharges [see Science News, Vol. 115, 1 /6/79, p. 4; Nature 4/26/79, p. 778] it would fuse oxygen snatched from Earth's atmosphere or hydrosphere into sulfur. In July 1955, I wrote to Professor Walter S. Adams, by then retired from the directorship of Mount Palomar and Mount Wilson observatories, but heading the solar observatory in Pasadena affiliated with the Mount Wilson observatory. The pertinent passage in my letter is this:

" 'I assume on the basis of my theory that Saturn has chlorine, or possibly sodium chloride, and also water. Is anything known in this matter? I would also like to know whether the spectral analysis gives reason to assume that Jupiter and Venus, alike, have iron and sulfur in ionized state?!

"Adams answered my questions in a hand-written letter [reproduced below] dated July 25, 1955. After discussing the principles of spectroscopy (the spectrum of reflection was not yet worked out), he wrote:

INSERT KIV4_08.TIF HERE

("Now to apply these facts and considerations to your questions.

1. The presence of chlorine in Saturn is improbable. It is not an abundant gas, shows great affinity for chemical combinations, and so far as I know has never been identified with certainty even in the sun or stars.

2. Water or water vapor might be present in the atmosphere of Saturn but would be completely frozen at the temperature, and hence unobservable.

3. Ionized iron and sulphur could not possibly be present in the atmospheres of Jupiter and Venus, because their spectra are atomic and would require very high temperatures for their production.") [VR, pp. 207-208]

"THE FIRES OF HELL"

"Mysterious chemical fires'' on Venus' surface was first mentioned by NASA-News in its Pioneer- Venus Early Findings report. "Starting at 13 km (8 mi) altitude, the two night side probes saw an unexpected glow increasing as the probes descended. The glow appeared to come from the surface and the base of the atmosphere. Mass spectrometer evidence for various sulfur compounds near the surface suggests that the mysterious glow could come from 'chemical fires' on the surface or in the very hot, dense lower atmosphere near the surface. The 'fires' would be fueled by reactions involving these sulfur compounds" (p. 2).

When four Venus probes plunged towards that planet's surface - two in daylight and two in darkness - all Pioneer instrument packages encountered identical misfortunes. For the final ten minutes, all four probes lost temperature data.

"One instrument carried aboard each probe was a nephelometer, designed to detect clouds by monitoring variations in light. Within each nephelometer was a sensitive radiometer that reacted to even small changes in outside light. Those radiometers showed only gloom around the two probes dropping through darkness - until the temperature sensors failed.

"At almost exactly that instant, the radiometers detected a faint glow in the atmosphere. The glow grew brighter and brighter.

"Was the atmosphere burning? Was some extreme chemical reaction taking place that produced a visible glow? Or was the atmosphere reflecting a glow from the ground - volcanic activity, or a chemiluminescent reaction at the surface?

" 'I think we were looking at the fires of hell,' Dr. Donahue ventured. 'Whatever was there probably happens all over the planet, but is only visible on the night side' " (Popular Science, op. cit., p. 67).

Nearly thirty years ago, in Worlds in Collision (p. 371), Velikovsky made the statement that "if there is oxygen present on Venus, petroleum fires must be burning there".* Could this be the source of Venusian hell-fire?

(*Footnote: The paucity of detected oxygen in Venus' atmosphere may be the result of the oxygen's being rapidly consumed by the "mysterious chemical fires" on the planet's surface.)

An item on Venus in the Houston Chronicle (12/15/78, p. 4, Sect. 1) contained the following thoughts of Dr. Donald Hunten of the University of Arizona:

" 'I think we were seeing the red glow of the surface rocks, which got brighter as the probes neared the surface.' . . . 'It doesn't make any difference what the composition of the rocks might be, it's hot enough on the surface of Venus to set them afire'."

Writing in the New York Times (1/25/79, p. A 16), Walter Sullivan had this to say about the strange glow:

"[Some scientists] believe that, because of high temperature, both the atmosphere and surface of Venus may glow, particularly at red and infrared wavelengths, or that light may be generated by chemical reactions involving sulfur compounds."

Earlier, NASA's preliminary report on the Pioneer probes (op. cit., p. 16) had mentioned that "at about 7 km (4 mi) altitude, some surface features begin to become visible in the red murk below . . . . on the surface, where the temperature is about 453C (847F) and only 10 percent of non-reflected sunlight is reaching the ground [Nature, 4/26/79, p. 778, reports that "Tomosko et al. have found that only 2% of the incident sunlight reaches the surface".] . . . illumination is a lurid red with much refraction and distortion of landmarks".

The reference to a "lurid red" color brings to mind the ancients' description of the comet Typhon which Velikovsky has identified with Venus - " 'It was not of fiery, but of bloody redness' "; " 'it had a fiery appearance and was twisted like a coil, and it was very grim to behold: it was not really a star so much as that might be called a ball of fire' " (W in C, pp. 84, 82).*(*Footnote: According to Van Nostrand s Scientific Encyclopedia, 4th ed., p. 1936, "Venus is slightly redder in color than the sun".)

Velikovsky also quoted sources indicating that "Venus, with its glowing train, was a very brilliant body"; according to the Tractate Shabbat: " 'Fire is hanging down from the planet Venus' " (W in C, p. 164).

How could the ancients have known what modern science has only recently and uncertainly learned?

THE VENUS GREENHOUSE EFFECT - AGAIN

With searing surface temperatures of 850-900F, a key question for nearly twenty years is what makes Venus so incredibly hot. The explanation most often cited is the so-called "greenhouse effect" in which incoming sunlight is converted to longer thermal wavelengths that are trapped by the planet's atmosphere.

Both NASA's Pioneer-Venus Early Findings report and the news media in general accepted that Venus' intense heat was the result of a "greenhouse effect" or, more specifically, a "runaway greenhouse effect". Even a British newsletter, whose focus is Velikovsky's work, uncritically parroted NASA News with respect to the greenhouse effect and concluded that "in general the whole strengthening of the 'Greenhouse effect' theory which comes from the findings of the Venus probe, goes very much against the case for Velikovsky".

Yet, the matter is not so simply resolved. The greenhouse effect is highly complex and fraught with difficulty. Its weaknesses and tenuity have already been exposed in the pages of this journal (see KRONOS III:2, pp. 132-134; KRONOS IV:2, pp. 28-32). The greenhouse effect theoretically requires abundant carbon dioxide and sufficient water vapor, among other things. As it happens, the Venusian "atmosphere's dominant carbon dioxide does much of the work by sheer numbers (about 96 percent), but that may not be enough. A vital 0.1 percent may be due to water vapor, says James Pollack of NASA Ames, with a surprising - and important - 0.02 percent from sulfur dioxide. 'If it weren't for the SO2,' says Pollack, 'I would start to become pessimistic.' But with its help, and that of heat-absorbing particles in the clouds, 'the greenhouse effect does seem viable' " (Science News, Vol. 115, 2/17/79, p. 100).

Thus, while even an authority like Pollack continues to exercise a somewhat cautious approach towards the "greenhouse effect", his attitude is not necessarily assumed by colleagues or laymen. David Morrison, for example, discusses the greenhouse effect and accepts it without even mentioning the need to postulate the presence of SO2 (Cf. Scientists Confront Velikovsky, p. 160).

A "greenhouse effect" is not an unusual occurrence. After all, "greenhouse effects" are ubiquitous phenomena; even a parked car can develop a "greenhouse effect". However, a planetary "greenhouse effect", supposedly functioning for billions of years, is quite another matter. Ad hoc reasons for Venus' extremely high surface temperature wherein a paltry amount of sulfur dioxide is called upon to support an almost insignificant quantity of water vapor which, in turn, must sustain an inexplicable over-abundance of carbon dioxide is a sorry theoretical picture indeed (Cf. Science News, 12/23 & 30/78, p. 435). Moreover, Pioneer Venus data has also revealed higher temperatures at the poles; and the question may be posed: Is a Hadley cell circulation pattern - the suggested mechanism by which the poles are heated - compatible with the proposed greenhouse effect?

A greater question still is how Venus acquired its massive atmosphere in the first place. Velikovsky's argument that Venus was candescent some 3500 years ago with its present heat due, in large part at least, to a residual natal effect avoids the circular problem of Venus' abundant atmospheric CO2 and the planet's extremely high surface temperature (see Scientific American, September 1975, p. 78; Cf. "Venus Hothouse - the other theory" by Frederic B. Jueneman in the June 1979 issue of IR&D; "Heat Transfer Models, Hothouse Calculations, and the Temperature of Venus" by George R. Talbott, forthcoming in KRONOS).

There may be a relatively limited "greenhouse effect" on Venus. Even so, can a greenhouse effect really account for all the present temperature of that planet? Can the present appearance of Venus be squared with ancient accounts describing Venus as "a bright torch of heaven" or a heavenly "diamond that illuminates like the sun" ( W in C, p.164)?

  • Venus is abnormally hot.
  • Venus has an unexpectedly high quantity of "primordial" argon-36.
  • Venus' atmosphere rotates at many times the rotational velocity of the planet.

These and other unusual planetary features have made Venus a real problem-child for orthodox theoreticians, requiring one ad hoc explanation after another. Yet, Velikovsky's Worlds in Collision is fully compatible with space age knowledge of Venus, both anticipating and accounting for those very discoveries that have so bemused the astronomical community.

. . . to be continued.

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