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Open letter to science editors
Venus Clouds: Test for Hydrocarbons
William T. Plummer
Dr. Plummer, a member of the Department of Physics and Astronomy,
University of Massachusetts when this paper was written, is now
Senior Scientist, Polaroid Corporation. Reprinted by permission of
the author and Science from Science, vol. 163 (14 March 1969), pl).
1191-92. Copyright 1969 by the American Association for the Advancement
"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. The
absorption lines of the petroleum spectrum lie far in the infrared where
usual photographs do not reach. 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."
I. Velikovsky, "The Gases of Venus," Worlds in
We publish here a series of papers addressing the question,
Are there hydrocarbons in the atmosphere of Venus? In Worlds in
Collision (1950) Velikovsky assumed that "Venus must be rich in
petroleum gases"--a condition unexpected then and under dispute now.
Writing in Science (March 14, 1969), William T. Plummer
claimed that Velikovsky's contention is not supported by the evidence.
His paper is reprinted here together with the reply, which
Velikovsky submitted to Science. (Velikovsky did not revise his
paper as the editors of Science requested, and the piece never
saw publication.) Following this reply, Professor Albert Burgstahler sets forth a summary of the evidences for and against
hydrocarbons to date. And finally, Velikovsky replies to
certain points raised by Burgstahler, and presents his own
evaluation of the data currently available. Ed.
Abstract. Infrared reflection spectra of hydrocarbon
clouds and frosts now give a critical test of Velikovsky's
prediction that Venus is surrounded by a dense envelope of
hydrocarbon clouds and dusts. Venus does not exhibit an
absorption feature near 2.4 microns, although such a feature is prominent in
every hydrocarbon spectrum observed.
Some of the least expected discoveries made by planetary astronomers in
recent years were correctly predicted by Velikovsky . He argued that
Jupiter should be a strong source of radio waves, that the earth should have
a magnetosphere, that the surface of Venus should be hot, that Venus might
exhibit an anomalous rotation, and that Venus should be surrounded by a
blanket of petroleum hydrocarbons . All except the last of
these predictions have been verified, most of them by accident
New data on hydrocarbon clouds and frosts, together with infrared
observations of Venus, now permit a test of the remaining prediction. Each
hydrocarbon (from methane through the hydrocarbon waxes and tars) absorbs
infrared radiation in a band of wavelengths centered between 2.3 and 2.5µ,
the position varying somewhat with the molecular structure
. This band is
weaker than several other hydrocarbon absorption bands at longer
wavelengths, but it lies conveniently in a spectral region for which the
terrestrial atmosphere is rather transparent.
Reflection spectra of Venus in this wavelength region have been obtained
by Kuiper , Sinton , Moroz
, and Bottema et al.
1). Kuiper's spectrum is a ratio of the Venus reflectivity to that of a
block of MgO in sunlight. The reflectivity of MgO falls off somewhat at
longer wavelengths, at a rate which is dependent upon its moisture content;
thus, if Kuiper's curve were corrected for this, it would be in better
agreement with the other curves. The spectrum recorded by Bottema et al.
was measured at a lower resolving power than that of the others (0.08),
and therefore the CO2 absorption feature at 2.15 microns on Venus
is smoothed out; a greater range of wavelengths was covered because the
spectrum was recorded from a high-altitude balloon.
[*!* Figure 1. Infrared reflectivities of propane cloud and butane frost
contrasted with the reflection spectrum of Venus as measured by four
Reflection spectra of several representative hydrocarbons were recorded
. Some hydrocarbons were formed into clouds by refrigeration in a copper
box cooled with dry ice, following the procedure of Zander
hydrocarbons were formed into white frost on a blackened copper block
partially immersed in liquid nitrogen. A few hydrocarbons of higher
molecular weight, such as the waxes, were granulated and supported on black
paper. Zander discovered that the spectral properties of clouds are quite
similar to those of frosts; our results confirm his finding.
A 625-watt quartz-tungsten lamp illuminated the cloud, frost, or powder
directly. Radiation scattered by each sample at an angle of 60° from the
direction of incidence was reflected to a spectrophotometer (Perkin-Elmer
model 12C) equipped with a LiF prism and an InAs detector. A layer of powder
sulfur was used as a reflectance standard , and all hydrocarbon spectra
were compared with the sulfur reflection measurements in order to eliminate
All hydrocarbons studied exhibited a substantial drop in reflectivity in
a band near 2.41. From the close similarity of the transmission spectra of
all hydrocarbons in this region, it appears that a substantial loss in
reflectivity, near 2.4 should be a common property of clouds composed of
hydrocarbon droplets or dust. Figure 1 shows the reflection characteristics
of a cloud of liquid propane droplets in the refrigerated box and also of a
frost of solid butane particles on a cold surface. For both, reflectivity
between 2.3 and 2.5µ is reduced below the continuum by a factor of about 2.
This spectral feature, as well as a few others exhibited by hydrocarbon
clouds at shorter wavelengths, is absent from the reflection spectrum of
The presence of condensed hydrocarbons in the clouds of Venus, a
prediction regarded by Velikovsky as a crucial test of his concept of the
development of the solar system, is not supported by the spectrophotometric
evidence. On the other hand, Venus observations in this wavelength range and
at other wavelengths are entirely compatible with the reflection spectrum of
a non-infinite cloud layer composed of very small or slender ice particles
 I. Velikovsky, Worlds in Collision (Doubleday, New York, 1950);
Ages in Chaos (Doubleday, New York, 1952); Earth in Upheaval
(Doubleday, New York, 1955).
 F. Hoyle later predicted a hydrocarbon cloud layer for different reasons
[Frontiers of Astronomy (Harper & Row, New York, 1956)].
 V. Bargmann and L. Motz, Science 138, 1350 (1962); I. I.
Shapiro, ibid. 157, 423 (1967).
 W. W. Coblentz, Investigations of Infrared Spectra
(Carnegie Institution of Washington, Washington, D.C., 1905), republished by
the Coblentz Society, Norwalk, Connecticut, 1962; R. N. Pierson, A. N.
Fletcher, E. StC. Gaintree, Anal. Chem. 28, 1218 (1956).
 G. P. Kuiper, Commun. Lunar Planet. Lab. 1, 83 (1962).
 W. M. Sinton, Mem. Soc. Roy. Sci. Liege 7, 300 (1962).
 V. I. Moroz, Astron. Zh. 41, 711 (1964); Soviet Astron. AJ
Engl. Transl. 8, 566 (1965).
 M. Bottema, W. Plummer, J. Strong, R. Zander, Astrophys. J. 140,
 Specifically: acetylene, anthracene, benzene, biphenyl, butane, cumene,
cymene, cyclohexane, diphenylmethane, hexane, paraffin wax, pinene,
polyethylene, polystyrene, propane, toluene, and xylene.
 R. Zander, J. Geophys. Res. 71, 375 (1966).
 M. Kronstein and R. J. Kraushaar, J. Opt. Soc. Amer. 53, 458
 J. E. Hansen and H. Cheyney, J. Atmos. Sci 25, 629
(1968); W. T. Plummer, J. Geophys. Res., in press.
 Supported in part by NASA grants NGR 22-010-023 and NGR 22-010-025.
Contribution No. 22 of the Four College Observatories.
PENSEE Journal VI