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Open letter to science editors


Venus and Hydrocarbons
Immanuel Velikovsky

Copyright 1974 by Immanuel Velikovsky

In 1950, I offered the thesis that Venus joined the planetary family less than 3500 years ago, and that it is still a protoplanet. In doing so, I claimed that Venus possesses a massive atmosphere, a high surface heat, abnormal (disturbed) rotation, and hydrocarbon gases in its atmosphere [1].

Plummer's Test. In the March 14, 1969, issue of Science, W. T. Plummer undertook to examine the last of these claims. He compared the reflection spectrum of Venus with those of a cloud of pure propane droplets and a frost of pure solid butane particles, selecting these compounds from a number of representative hydrocarbons. He chose the 2.1 to 2.5 micron range in the infrared as best suited for the analysis. He concluded that, whereas a certain feature of reduced reflectivity apparent in the hydrocarbons tested is regularly found between 2.3 and 2.5 microns, its position varying with molecular structure, a similar feature is not present or, more correctly, not present in the same degree, in the infrared spectra of Venus obtained by Sinton (1962), Moroz (1964) and Bottema et al. (1964). "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."

Plummer's verdict is not conclusive, however. First, it is based upon three incorrect assumptions: (a) that I stipulated that hydrocarbons are present in condensed form (producing a reflection spectrum); (b) that I located them in the upper (reflecting) layer of the clouds; and (c), following from Plummer's comparison, that I maintained that they are the sole constituent of the clouds. In my original statement [2], however, I made it clear that polymerized and therefore heavy molecules of petroleum hydrocarbons are not necessarily present in the upper layer of the dense atmosphere; that in the lower levels, because of heat, they must circulate in gaseous form; and that they are not the only components of the clouds. Second, Plummer's conclusion neglects some important considerations:

(a) Depressions in the reflectivity of Venus near 2.4 microns have been detected. Both Sinton and Moroz identified a depression in the reflectivity of Venus at 2.35 microns, but ascribed it to CO. Of another depression feature at 2.28 microns, Moroz wrote: "Its nature is not clear yet" [3]. Connes et al. confirmed the band at 2.35 Microns and identified one at 2.48 microns as due to HF. (b) The general depression in reflectivity between 2.3 and 2.5 microns in the spectra of Venus obtained by Sinton, by Moroz, and by Bottema et al. permits a conclusion only as to the upper limit for hydrocarbons' concentration in Venus' atmosphere [4].

In a composite atmosphere of CO2 and H20, hydrocarbon gases would not show well in the 2.1 to 2.5 micron range. Pollack and Sagan wrote (1968): "We no longer consider the region between 1 and 3 microns sufficiently well defined to permit a definite compositional analysis" of Venus' atmosphere [5]. (c) The 1.0 atmosphere of pressure in the laboratory experiment and the 0.3 atmospheres inside the absorbing layer for the 1 to 2.5 micron wavelength on Venus (J. and P. Connes) represent different conditions.

(d) Kuiper observed that in the 1 to 2.5 micron range, strong bands are stronger in the laboratory than in Venus' spectrum, while the reverse is true for the weaker bands [6]. Finally, (e) it should be borne in mind that bright lines of emission from molecules in the hot low atmosphere of Venus could mask some of the loss in brightness due to the presence of similar molecules in the reflecting layer of the clouds.

Plummer's conclusion regarding the possible presence of ice crystals in the atmosphere of Venus is unsound. (a) It contradicts the refractive index of the clouds, which is definitely higher than that of ice or water (1.33) [7], whereas quite a few hydrocarbons exhibit the observed refractive index; (b) it does not explain the yellowish color of the clouds; whereas organic substances of the benzenoid or olefinic type absorb in violet and thus have a yellowish tint; and (c), it is incompatible with the very small amount of water vapor in the region above the clouds--the mixing ratio H2O/CO2 being 15 parts per million (Belton and Hunter) or only one part per million (Kuiper) [8].

Evidence of Hydrocarbons Lies Deep in Infrared. 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 to 3.5 micron range and in several other ranges of longer wavelengths. The 8 to 12 micron region is especially suited for tracing hydrocarbons and their derivatives, for between 8 and 13 microns carbon dioxide absorbs only slightly and water vapor absorbs not at all [9]. 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 to 13 micron region. "The substance responsible for this absorption--it is not H2O--has not been identified so far, but its importance in the physics of Venus is enormous" (Moroz, 1963) [3]. Gillett, Low, and Stein also observed these sharply expressed bands in Venus' atmosphere and wrote (1968): "We do not attempt an interpretation of the spectra at this time. However, it should be noted that two fundamental problems are now apparent: 1) What mechanism accounts for the strong absorption of sunlight in the 3 to 5 micron region? 2) What property of the clouds causes the low brightness temperature between 8 and 10 microns?" [10].

The solution to the problem of the strongly expressed bands at 3.5 microns and 8 to 13 microns in the infrared spectrum of Venus should be sought in the presence of organic molecules. "It is well known that organic molecules containing C-H bands give characteristic spectra in the wavelength region of 3.4 to 3.5 microns" wrote Glasstone (concerning Mars) [11]. "The infrared spectrum should receive more attention, particularly the region from 8 to 14 microns where some of these substances (benzene and several other substituted hydrocarbons as well as some purines and pyramidines) and their derivatives exhibit absorptions," wrote Owen and Greenspan (concerning Jupiter) [12]. "In the 8 to 14 micron spectral interval carbon dioxide appears to contribute about 20-35% of the opacity and a particulate medium presumably contributes the remainder."

Processes Occurring on Venus Which Must Be Taken Into Account. 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" [13]. 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 ("If there is oxygen on Venus, petroleum fires must be burning there") [1]; 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 [14]. 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.) (a) In the ultraviolet wave length of 2600 angstroms, a narrow band attributed to organic material was identified on Jupiter by Stecher (1965) [15] and confirmed by Evans (1966) [16]. It was surmised to be aromatic hydrocarbons by Greenspan and Owens [12]. (b) At the same wave length a similar feature was detected on Venus by Evans and confirmed by Jenkins et al. (1967).

In 1950, I suggested that polymerized hydrocarbons could be created by electrical discharges in an atmosphere of methane and ammonia (known ingredients of Jupiter's atmosphere) [1]. In 1960, A. T. Wilson successfully conducted such an experiment [17]. This process may have occurred on Venus.

Finally, the envelope of Venus may well contain some ferruginous particles and ash. The "small dust like ashes of the furnace" which fell "in all the land of Egypt" (Exodus 9:8) and throughout the globe is, I surmise, still preserved at the bottom of the ocean. Called Worzel Ash after its discoverer, its even distribution was attributed by him to a "fiery end of bodies of cosmic origin" and by Ewing "to a cometary collision." "It could hardly be without some recorded consequences of global extent" (Ewing) [18]. A reflection spectrum of Worzel Ash should be compared with the reflection spectrum of Venus' clouds.

Original Thesis is Consistent with Evidence. Although my claim regarding the presence of organic molecules in the atmosphere of Venus awaits future testing, my thesis concerning the recent origin and history of Venus is consistent with the discovered data.

(a) Venus is very hot (about 1000 F).

(b) Its heat comes from the subsurface (there being no phase effect at various wavelengths) [19].

(c) It has a massive atmosphere (contrary to theoretical expectations) [20].

(d) It rotates anomalously (retrogradely).

(e) In rotating, it turns the same face to the Earth at every inferior conjunction. This "resonance effect" could indicate that Venus passed near the Earth at some point in the past.

(f) Its axis of rotation is perpendicular to the ecliptic, not to the plane of its own revolution [21].

(g) Its atmosphere rotates at many times the rotational velocity of the planet [22]. (In my opinion, the protoplanet's trailing part, upon being absorbed, preserved some of its rotational momentum.)

(h) Its orbit is nearly circular. (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 [23].

(i) Even on a near circular orbit, Venus may possess ground tides in its molten crust. The claim by Soviet scientists, based upon data obtained by Venera V and VI, that there are high mountains on Venus was met with disbelief by American scientists, who could not visualize how plastic rock could sustain mountains. Would ground tides explain 1) the difference in altitude measurements of the two Venera probes, which reached the planet's atmosphere 185 miles' apart? 2) the observed precession and lateness of the optical dichotomy--the terminator does not bisect the planetary disc at exactly Eastern and Western elongations?

Lastly, (j) it must be noticeably cooling. In 1967, I offered this additional crucial test of my thesis: Venus' heat being of recent origin, the planet must be cooling off [24]. This loss could be determined by taking repeated measurements of the cloud surface temperature with a bolometer or thermocouples and would be observable from one synodic period of Venus to the next--"even if in only fractions of a degree." Since then, Gillett, Low, and Stein compared their 1968 absolute spectrum of Venus with earlier spectral work of Sinton and Strong (1960) "which gave somewhat higher surface brightness." They added, "the reasons for this disagreement are not understood at present" [10]. It appears that in eight years (five synodical periods), the cloud surface temperature of Venus dropped by several degrees.


[1]   I. Velikovsky, "Gases of Venus" and "Thermal Balance of Venus" in Worlds in Collision (New York: Macmillan 1950, Doubleday 1950).

[2]  "Carbon dioxide is an ingredient of Venus' atmosphere ... 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." Ibid.

[3]  V. I. Moroz, "The Infrared Spectra of Mars and Venus" in Life Science and Space Research, vol. 2, 4th International Space Science Symposium, 1963 (Amsterdam: North-Holland Publishing Company, 1964), pp. 230-37.

[4]   W. T. Plummer, "Venus Clouds: Test for Hydrocarbons" Science 163 (14 March 1969): 1191-92.

[5]    J. B. Pollack and C. Sagan, Journal of Geophysical Research 73: 5945.

[6]   P. Swings, "Venus through a Spectroscope," Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, vol. 113, no. 3 (June, 1969): 229-46.

[7]   A. Arking and J. Potter, "The Phase Curve of Venus and the Nature of Its Clouds," Journal of Atmospheric Research, vol. 25, no. 4, pp. 617-28.

[8]   G. Kuiper, Communications of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, University of Arizona, 1968.

[9]   H. M. Randall, R. G. Fowler, N. Fuson and J. R. Dangle, Infrared Determination of Organic Compounds, (Van Nostrand, 1949), pp. 46-65 and chart following P. 20; F. F. Bentley, L. D. Smithson, A. L. Rozek, Infrared Spectra (Interscience Publishers, 1968), pp. 21-28, 65-71.

[10]   F. C. Gillett, F. J. Low and W. A. Stein, "Absolute Spectrum of Venus from 2.8 to 14 Microns," Journal of Atmospheric Sciences, vol. 25, no. 4 (July, 1968): 594-95.

[11]   S. Glasstone, The Book of Mars (NASA, 1968), p. 220.

[12]   T. Owen and J. A. Greenspan, Science 156 (1967): 1489.

[13]   R. F. Mueller, Science 163 (21 March 1969):3873.

[14]   T. M. Donahue, "Upper Atmosphere of Venus," Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences (July, 1968).

[15]   T. P. Stecher, Ap. J. 142 (1965): 1186.

[16]   D. C. Evans, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Report, X-613-66-172.

[17]   A. T. Wilson, Nature (6 October 1962).

[18]   J. L. Worzel, Proceedings, National Academy of Science 45 (15 March 1959); M. Ewing, Ibid.

[19]   At 2 cm wavelength: D. Morrison, Science 163 (1969): 3869; at 4.5 cm: J. R. Dickel, W. J. Medd, W. W. Warnock, Nature 220 (1968) 1183; at 11 cm: K. I. Kellerman, Icarus (September, 1966).

[20]   H. Spencer Jones, Life on Other Worlds (1952), p. 167; V. A. Firsoff, The Interior Planets (Oliver & Boyd, 1968), p. 102.

[21]   P. Goldreich and S. T. Peale, Nature 209 (1966): 1117; I. I. Shapiro, Science 157 (1967): 423-25; R. B. Dyce et al., Astronomical Journal 72 (1967): 351.

[22]   B. A. Smith, Science 158 (1967): 114-16.

[23]   From a private communication by C. Sherrerd, Clinton, N.J.

[24]   Yale Scientific Magazine 41 (April, 1967).


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