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Open letter to science editors
Copyright 1974 by Immanual Velikovsky
The case for hydrocarbons
I have claimed a massive atmosphere around Venus--while my 1951 reviewer
and opponent, the Royal Astronomer Sir H. Spencer Jones, maintained that
Venus has less atmosphere than the earth .
After a bitter experience with Venera 4, crushed while descending in the Venus atmosphere, the Russians
learned that near the ground it is in excess of ninety atmospheric
pressures. I also claimed that in historical times the trailing part of the
protoplanet Venus became partly absorbed into the atmosphere and cloud
covering of Venus and that quite probably till today there are hydrocarbons
present or, instead, quite possibly organic molecules.(*) Venus,
according to many ancient sources, poured naphtha on earth; the Mayan
sources, for instance, are so insistent in their connecting the planet with
"fire water" that a modern author, L. Sejourne, wrote an entire book on the
'subject, Burning Water (1956), without, however, a reference to
the outpouring of naphtha on earth. Again, according to a number of ancient
sources as far apart as Scandinavia, Greece, India, or Judea, during a
number of years that followed the great outpouring and conflagrationthe
years that carry the appellative, "Shadow of Death" or "Goetterdaemerung"--ambrosia
(Greeks), manna (Israelites), madhu (Hindu) or morning sweet dew
(Scandinavians), fell on earth. I drew the conclusion that there must have
been occurring a process of conversion of hydrocarbons, in the cloud
envelope that enshrouded the earth, into edible (carbohydrate or
protein-like) substance. In an article printed in Harper's for
June, 1951, "Answer to my Critics," I speculated that through prolonged
bacterial action, hydrocarbons could have been converted into edible
products. In this I followed the suggestion offered me by the now late
Vasili I. Komarewsky (Illinois Institute of Technology), my classmate and
close friend through the eight years of gymnasium in Moscow, and in this
country a leading authority on petroleum and catalysis. This was an answer
to a critic, Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, who wrote that if a conversion of
petroleum products (hydrocarbons) into edible products were feasible, the
problem of feeding the growing population of the hungry in the world would
have been solved--but it is unsolvable. But some years later, through the
study of premature destruction of asphalt roads, it was learned that certain
bacilli convert asphalt (petroleum products) into edible products; since
then, the Food Administration of the United Nations erected in southern
France a factory for converting asphalt into edible products, exactly for
the purpose of helping to solve the nutrition problems of the growing
population of the world. Hydrocarbons can be changed into nutrition
products, and not only by bacterial action, but also by some other modern
*Hydrocarbons of petroleum products consist of only two elements--carbon
and hydrogen; carbohydrates, besides carbon and hydrogen, contain also
My other assumption, namely, concerning the origin of hydrocarbons in
Venus' trailing part, was all my own. In Worlds in Collision
(1950), in the section, "The Gases of Venus," I have assumed that by
electrical discharges in the atmosphere of methane and ammonia (known
ingredients of the Jovian atmosphere), hydrocarbons of heavy molecular
weight could have been created. Of electrical discharges in the short and
stormy history of Venus, as witnessed by the peoples of the world, there was
no dearth. In 1952 not long after the publication of Worlds in
Collision, H. C. Urey suggested that in a mixture of methane, ammonia
and hydrogen, electrical discharges would produce amino acids; the following
year, S. L. Miller succeeded in verifying this by an experiment
. In 1960 A. T. Wilson of Australia published in
Nature a report of a successful experiment: by electrical discharges in a
mixture of gaseous methane and ammonia he produced heavy molecules of
hydrocarbons, exactly as I suggested. Two years later, Wilson published
another article in Nature and again without referring to my work and my
claims, suggested that the atmosphere of Venus abounds in hydrocarbons
In the meantime meteorites were observed possessing organic material and
around this claim by Nagi and his collaborators, grew a large and
impassioned scientific literature in the beginning denying the find as
self-deception of the finders, but as time passed, the scale of the debate
started slowly to incline toward an acceptance of the claims of Nagi and his
colleagues as true and not built on self-deception.
There were also numerous spectroscopic observations made of the tails of
comets that disclosed the presence, even abundant presence, of hydrocarbons.
In my understanding those comets originated in the disturbances that
accompanied the near collisions of Venus with other celestial bodies; thus
the evidence appears to be still present.
In Worlds in Collision, towards the end of the book, I put two
sections concerning Venus' physical properties. One deals with its
atmosphere ("The Gases of Venus"), the other with its thermal state ("The
Thermal Balance of Venus"). Since I claimed that Venus is extremely hot, I
also maintained that any hydrocarbons present in its lower atmosphere must
be in a gaseous state, though some of the hydrocarbons, like paraffins,
require high temperatures in order to convert to gases. I also wrote:
"Moreover, if there is oxygen present on Venus, petroleum fires must be
burning there" (Worlds in Collision, "The Thermal Balance of Venus").
With these considerations in mind, and in order to trace the possible
fate of Venus' hydrocarbons, I envisaged two processes, the first a
transformation into other organic products concentrating in the cloud cover
of Venus, either through microbial activity, or through electrical
discharges, this last possibly having been in the process that went on for
decades 34 centuries ago. The second manner of conversion of hydrocarbons
into other products in the lower atmosphere, in the high temperature
prevailing there, would be in combustion--in case oxygen is or was present
there. When hydrocarbons burn, two products result--carbon dioxide (CO2)
and water (H2O). But if oxygen is not present, or not present in
sufficient quantity, in the great heat and pressure, a cracking of naphtha,
a process familiar in the petroleum industry, must take place. As
Burgstahler in his article in this issue of Pensée correctly
notices, oxygen of the terrestrial atmosphere, or water acquired from the
Earth in the exchange that took place, could provide the necessary oxygen to
start the process. (One could be reminded that Harold Urey, my severe critic
since a few years after the publication of Worlds in Collision,
claims that a comet hit the Earth and splashed the water of the ocean onto
the Moon, 240,000 miles away.)
If the process of conversion of hydrocarbons into other organic molecules
took or still takes place, the product, "ambrosia" of the Greeks ("the
ambrosial robe of Athene"), would be most probably one of the main
ingredients of the clouds; yet if microbial activity did not develop in
Venus' atmosphere, then hydrocarbons would be present. As to the oxidizing
of hydrocarbons, or combustion, the reaction would follow this pattern: upon
hydrocarbons converting into carbon dioxide and water, the latter as steam
would rise to higher strata until in a photo-dissociation process it fell
apart to hydrogen and oxygen, the former escaping into, first, the upper
atmosphere and then into space, but the oxygen returning to continue the
burning of the remaining hydrocarbons. And since only a few thousand years
have passed since the process started, hydrocarbons, even in the case of
presence of initial oxygen or initial water, would still be present.
Actually at some time past Burgstahler advised me that by the quantity of
the remaining hydrocarbons the lapse of time since the start of the process
can be made known, if the rate of conversion can be evaluated.
Before continuing on the theme, I wish to return to 1946. In advance of
approaching any publisher with the manuscript of Worlds in Collision,
I approached Harlow Shapley of the Harvard College Observatory with the
request (letter of April, 1946) to perform the spectroscopic tests on the
presence of hydrocarbons on Venus. I will not enter here the sordid story,
partly described by Horace M. Kallen in Pensée, May, 1972. Shapley
subsequently wrote to Kallen that the Harvard College Observatory has no
facilities to perform the test and that the best facilities are in the hands
of Walter S. Adams, Director of Mount Wilson and Mount Palomar
observatories. I wrote Adams and on September 9, 1946, he replied most
courteously and assured me that "The absorption bands of the petroleum gases
are in the infrared, far below where photographic plates can be used. It is
true that the spectrum of some of the hydrocarbon compounds do occur in the
photographic region, but these would necessarily arise from the gases and
not from hydrocarbon dust. There is no evidence of the presence of
hydrocarbon gas in the atmosphere of Venus." But he also stipulated that
"The work which we have done at Mount Wilson on the spectrum of Venus is
necessarily limited to the spectral region which can be photographed."
Thus I was warned. Nevertheless, I preferred to adhere to the conclusions
I reached and, when in 1950 Worlds in Collision was
published, to express myself in the following way: "If and as long as Venus
is too hot for the liquefaction of petroleum, the hydrocarbons will
circulate in gaseous form" ("The Gases of Venus"). Since the envisaged
hydrocarbons would be mostly heavy molecules, just by physical laws they
would not be expected at the top of the atmosphere, Further, acknowledging
that "the absorption lines of the petroleum spectrum lie far in the infrared
where usual photographs do not reach," I made my assumption:
"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"
(Worlds in Collision, "The Gases of Venus").
In this form I presented my views to the reader, undaunted by the
warnings of the man at that time best authorized to give an answer.
My correspondence with Adams continued also past the publication of
Worlds in Collision, and by his attitude, in my opinion, he
redeemed the honor of his profession that in its behavior reached low
ethical standards never before attained. On July 28, 1950 he advised me that
the "oil companies use special types of spectroscopes to analyze some of the
components of petroleum," advice good today as it was over 23 years ago.
In 1955, five years after the publication of Worlds in Collision,
Fred Hoyle in his book, Frontiers of Astronomy, expressed the view
that the clouds of Venus "might consist of drops of oil," and that "the
oceans of Venus may well be oceans of oil." He did not consider that Venus
is very hot and therefore he spoke of oil oceans on it. His line of thought
brought him to very similar conclusions as to the atmosphere of Venus.
"Carbon was much more likely to be initially present in combination with
hydrogen,--not with oxygen.... If all the carbon was initially locked away
in the higher hydrocarbons, an oxidation process was necessary in order to
produce the carbon dioxide that we now observe. It is possible that the
oxygen derived from the dissociation of the water was all absorbed in the
oxidation of hydrocarbons" (pp. 68-72). Also several other scientists
theorized about the presence of hydrocarbons (petroleum) in Venus' atmosphere.
In the meantime deeper infrared spectra became accessible for spectral
analysis. The upper and lower atmospheres of Venus are separated by a cloud
layer, over 15 kilometers thick. Thus, when we speak of the atmosphere of
Venus and its composition, we need to define one of the three areas as the
subject of discussion: the upper atmosphere, the dense cloud layer, or the
lower atmosphere. By means of spectral analysis we cannot reach the lower
atmosphere--unless we deal with the emission spectrum of the light
that glows through the cloud. Of the cloud layer we can know by means of a
spectral analysis only the constituents of its top layer, because we have
only the reflection spectrum which, as Burgstahler stated, is not
as clear in revealing the composition of the layer as an emission
spectrum (only from hot substances) or absorption spectrum (of
light going through gases). The upper atmosphere reveals itself through an
absorption spectrum, but this atmosphere is very rarefied and the absorption
spectrum is "engulfed" by the reflection spectrum from the top of the
cloud--the albedo or the reflection power of this cloud is close to the
albedo of freshly fallen snow.
The rich presence of carbon dioxide (CO2) on Venus was assumed
at least since the work of C. E. St. John and J. B. Nicholson (1922). In
Worlds in Collision, before speculating on the presence of
hydrocarbons, I stated that "carbon dioxide is an ingredient of Venus'
atmosphere" and referred to the work by St. John and Nicholson, before
introducing my hypothesis: "On the basis of this research, I assume that
Venus must be rich in petroleum gases."
The confirmation of the very large amounts of carbon dioxide came also
with the Russian attempts to place a miniature laboratory on the surface of
the planet and to analyze various layers of the atmosphere through which the
laboratory was descending. In the first probes only eleven various analyses
could be made-in search for oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen, a few other gaseous
elements, and water, carbon dioxide (CO2) and carbon monoxide
(CO). Also only a few selected layers were explored. The probes indicated at
some altitude as much as 95% carbon dioxide, but no atomic nitrogen;
nitrogen was generally expected to compose up to 90 percent of Venus'
atmosphere (L. D. Kaplan), this by assuming that Venus and Earth must have
had a similar origin and history. But I did not share this expectation
concerning atomic nitrogen. The problem of the origin of huge quantities of
carbon dioxide on Venus was perplexing, and several authors expressed
themselves as baffled by it.
From where could the massive amount of carbon dioxide have come? If
volcanism on Venus is much stronger than on Earth, not only carbon dioxide
but some other ingredients as well--like water vapor in rich
quantities-needed to be produced. Besides, the, radiometrically obtained
topographical picture of Venus' ground surface did not reveal volcanoes
resembling terrestrial volcanoes, but only immense circular formations, some
hundred miles across, and with walls as low as a quarter of a mile at
most--appearing more like effects of bubbling on a grandiose scale. Then
what is the possible origin of carbon dioxide on Venus?
Hydrocarbons in combustion produce carbon dioxide. In the process I
described a little earlier, the dissociation of water by photoelectric or
any other process would cause the lower atmosphere to be oxidizing, whereas
the upper atmosphere with the escaping hydrogen, would be reducing. This
situation is also detected--to the surprise, even disbelief, of many researchers.
Are then any hydrocarbons, or other organic molecules still present on Venus?
After the first American fly-by probe, Mariner II, passed its rendezvous
point with Venus in December 1962, the results were first made public in
February, 1963, and it was claimed by the NASA spokesman, Dr. Homer Newell,
that the clouds on Venus are rich in hydrocarbons. I have repeatedly read in
the polemic surrounding my work that this statement at the press conference
was a mistake seized- -upon by the followers of my concepts. It was not a
press conference "mistake." The conclusion was based upon very careful
consideration of the physical characteristics of the cloud, layer that was
found homogeneous at the top and the bottom, at temperatures of ca. -35°F on
the top and over +200°F (400°K) at the bottom. Professor L. D. Kaplan, the
researcher on the staff of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory responsible for the
statement, discussed the phenomenon in several papers and memoranda and his
conclusion was that only the multiple radical CH (hydrogen and carbon bound)
has the same physical characteristics at the two ends of the range of
temperature as discovered. It is also untrue that JPL revoked the statement
made; contrariwise, in Mission to Venus (Mariner II) published in
1963 the statement is repeated in this form: "At their base, the clouds are
about 200 degrees F and probably are comprised of condensed hydrocarbons."
Although the question is not about what was said and what was not, but of
the veritable content of the clouds, I found it necessary to tarry here on
this issue because of the sociological aspect that intervened unfortunately
in a scientific problem: I read quite a few vitriolic comments and heard of
a few college lecture tapes about a "crucial test" for my entire work. (I
introduced the sentence on hydrocarbons with the words "I assume," and also
said that if there is oxygen present, petroleum ftres must be burning.
Therefore, the presence in our time of hydrocarbons, even in lower strata,
could not be construed as a crucial test. Moreover, I discussed also the
conversion of hydrocarbons into other organic molecules by catalysis. The
high, near-incandescent heat of Venus--which I claimed at a time when
scientific opinion favored a near-ground-surface temperature only a few
degrees higher than the mean annual temperature of Earth--constitutes a
crucial test.) But it seems that, if anything, the subsequent work only
increased the probability (today I am inclined to say the "near-certainty")
of the presence of organic material in the Venus clouds. Since the episode
in the sociology of science is of interest, so also is a sentence in a
letter by L. D. Kaplan (dated April 1963)--not yet realizing why his
findings were engendering a storm of protest--to a friend, a member of the
Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. Kaplan wrote that his having
identified hydrocarbons caused a violent reaction among astronomers. The
word hydrocarbon "was used only to avoid the use of 'organic compounds' for
obvious reasons. The reaction to even 'hydrocarbons' was much too violent."
In a copy of a published report that he sent to his friend, he struck out by
pencil the word "hydrocarbons," changing it to "organic compounds."
In 1969 W. T. Plummer, at that time with the University of Massachusetts,
undertook to investigate whether the reflection spectrum of Venus' clouds at
the near infrared, at the range of 2.1 to 2.5 microns, duplicates the
reflection spectra of the solid butane particles and of liquid propane
droplets. [Plummer's article is reproduced in this issue. Ed.] He selected
these two hydrocarbon compounds out of a group of seventeen--there are in
nature or can be constructed practically tens of thousands of hydrocarbon
combinations. (Professor W. C. Harris of Furman University, wrote me very
recently: "These [organic compounds] may, in fact, be specific molecules
synthesized in this environmentcontaining carbon, hydrogen and other
elements--that simply are not common to our laboratory models"). The logic
actually demanded an approach reverse from that pursued by Plummer. He
needed not to look for hydrocarbons that may give a reflection spectrum
different from that of Venus in the waverange he selected, but for
hydrocarbons and other organic molecules that may produce a reflection
spectrum similar to that of Venus. He reproduced the reflection spectra of
Venus in that range (2.1 to 2.4 microns) as observed by four different
researchers--and they differ between themselves. Plummer claimed that the
cloud of Venus does not show the same darkening in spectrum (absorption) as
the frost of butane and the mist of propane, both, as I stressed in my
reply, used at a different atmospheric pressure (0.2 against 1.0) and at
different concentrations. And then I stipulated in Worlds in
Collision, "if the gases lie in the upper path of the atmosphere where
the rays of the sun penetrate . . ." whereas Plummer was looking at the top
of the cloud only. Yet I pointed out that the spectrum of Venus, especially
as found by Sinton (1962) and by Bottema, et al. (1964)
, produces a
definite absorption of light in this wave range, pronounced as lacking by Plummer.
In my answer to Plummer, I stressed also an important point, namely that
the glow ("ashen light") that shimmers on the dark side of Venus, must
produce bright spectral lines of emission, and upon traversing the cloud
layer would definitely much erase the effect of the absorption spectrum
created by the upper atmosphere or the reflection bands from the top of the cloud layer.
I opposed Plummer's assertion that the reflection spectrum at the
wavelength he investigated proves the abundant presence of water in the form
of ice crystals in the clouds to which he ascribed the spectral absorption:
My main argument was that the refractive index (1.44) is definitely higher
than the refractive index of ice or water (1.33). By the way, today
Plummer's view has hardly any adherents and one of the main counterarguments
against the view of water to ice in the clouds, is the same that I offered,
namely that "The results for the index of refraction eliminate the
possibility that the visible clouds are composed of pure water or ice" (J.
E. Hansen and A. Arking, Science, vol. 71, 19 Feb. 71, pp. 669ff).
In the meantime, Plummer's article in Science caused some
reverberations; thus, London Times printed an article under a title
suggesting my theory was disproved; but despite the title and the case of
ice against hydrocarbons on Venus, the article was rather sympathetic to my
other claims and their verification, as was also Plummer's paper: he has the
distinction of being the first in his profession to undertake tests to check
on one of my propositions, even if only with a claim of disproving a
particular proposition. As I learned at a later date, he had to persevere
and not submit to the insistent demand of the reviewers of his article for
Science before publication that my name should be omitted from his
article he agreed only that it should not appear in its title.
My answer was submitted to Science editors, was returned for
rewriting after one or two reviewers took issue with my statement that the
lower atmosphere of Venus is oxidizing. I had an easy answer to
make--actually in the issue of Science which a week later followed
Plummer's article, written on March 21, 1969, R. F. Mueller, discussing the
content of the Venusian atmosphere, referred to the "instabilities of the
hydrocarbon compounds in an anhydrous, oxidizing, hot environment."
But I grew tired of the prospect of negotiating and rewriting and have
satisfied myself by having sent an early version of my reply to Professor Plummer.
By 1971 Kuiper concluded that it is not known of what the clouds of Venus
consist, and hydrocarbons and carbohydrates were mentioned as possible
candidates among several others.
At the Symposium at Lewis and Clark College, Oregon, in August, 1972,
Burgstahler read a paper on the positive indications of the presence of
hydrocarbons in Venus' atmosphere. By the time he presented his paper for
printing in Pensée, the perusal of the literature (he did not make
any tests) made him take a more cautious stand and it may even appear that
he tends toward regarding sulfuric acid as having the better chance of
proving itself as the main constituent of the cloud cover of Venus. If I
have not lost the ability of logical deduction and conclusion, Burgstahler's
paper is nothing but a strong supporting evidence for the presence of
hydrocarbons (or other organic material) on Venus, and this despite the way
he presents the case and draws his conclusions. Good chemistry needed to be
matched by equally good dialectics.
First, Burgstahler presents the new data of Venus' mid-infrared spectrum
of absorption--at 3.5 microns and in deeper infrared--8 to 13 microns. It
follows that in these ranges, Venus and many hydrocarbons alike as I also
assumed when writing the article offered to Scienceproduce strong
bands of absorption, whereas the sulfuric acid does not produce all such
bands. But Venus has them. Also in the ultraviolet, the absorption bands
(lines) are what hydrocarbons would produce and what Venus' spectrum shows,
but not sulfuric acid. And when on both ends of, the spectrum the finds are
for hydrocarbons, Burgstahler bends the scale by sending the entire question
back to the near-infrared, already discussed by Plummer (who claimed water)
and answered by myself (at that time not without repeated counsel from
Burgstahler). But earlier in the present article, he made himself a very
clear statement that the 2.1 to 2.4 micron range is not well suited
for defining any presence of hydrocarbons or other organic molecules
because, as he says, carbon dioxide present on Venus overwhelms at this wave
range the spectrum picture and smears any absorption features that could be
the effect of the presence of hydrocarbons or other organic molecules.
"Unfortunately, the many intense CO2 lines in this spectral
region make detection of the generally weak C-H (and related N-H and O-H)
overtone and combination bands extremely difficult and uncertain," wrote
Burgstahler, who stresses the preference of the deeper infrared range, and
Plummer in his article before Burgstahler also admitted that a much better
area for investigation would be in the deeper infrared that by now is available.
I have composed a table for a better evaluation of Burgstahler's findings
made through his perusal of literature. (See following page.)
The recent (1973) claim by A. T. Young and L. D. G. Young, favored
 by Burgstahler, has the spectral bands of Venus' cloud, where they cannot be
accounted by carbon dioxide, as due to sulfuric acid, or oil of vitriol (H2SO4).
It is true that sulfuric acid (used in the petroleum industry and for many
other caustic purposes) produces certain bands found in Venus' spectrum, but
then it does not produce other bands observed in the infrared, whereas
organic molecules can account for almost all of them. In the near infrared
(2.1 to 2.5 microns) Young does not even attempt to make sulfuric acid
accountable for the bands of absorption. Sulfuric acid cannot produce the
observed features in the ultraviolet and cannot be held responsible for the
yellowish color of Venus. Further, Kuiper and his colleagues have argued
that sulfuric acid is incompatible with various chemical conditions on
Venus. As Burgstahler mentioned, its presence is incompatible with ammonia
detected by the Russians deeper into the atmosphere in direct chemical
analysis in a search for this compound.
As to the color of Venus, Burgstahler borrows from Young that an iron
compound of sulfur could have been the cause of the absorption in the
ultraviolet; certain other spectral features could have also been attributed
to an iron compound of sulfur. This seems to be a better surmise.
Now is the idea of the presence of sulfur and iron, or their compounds,
on Venus new? As to the iron, I described from ancient sources the world
turning red because of particles "of ferruginous or other soluble pigment" (Worlds
in Collision, "Red World"); it gave a red hue to the rivers
and caused death and decomposition to the aniinal population of the rivers.
The pigment was followed in a few days by "small dust," like "ashes of the
furnace," and then by the outpouring of bituminous stuff, followed in turn
by large meteorites. Actually, if we can believe numerous testimonies
bequeathed to us by ancient sources, the ancients had already what we intend
some day to obtain from Venus--samples of its dust, ash, atmosphere and
rocks. Studying the spectra of comets with hydrocarbons in their
self-illuminating tails, and bituminous material in some meteorites, we
have, most probably, another indirect way to study Venus' composition.
Whether the pigment that fell on earth was a compound of iron and sulfur,
as it appears to have been, or not, it caused death of the aqueous fauna.
But of the presence of sulfur on Venus, in addition to iron and organic
material, I was conscious some 20 years in advance of Young.
On January 28, 1945, I registered a lecture copyright titled
"Transmutation of Oxygen into Sulfur." This was over five 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 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 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 dated July 25, 1955.
After discussing the principles of spectroscopy (the spectrum of reflection
was not yet worked out), he wrote:
"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 sulfur 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."
Eight years later, in 1963, on September 11, in a memorandum submitted to
H. H. Hess in his capacity as Chairman of the Space Science Board of the
National Academy of Sciences, I repeated my assumptions concerning Saturn,
Jupiter, and Venus. The memo was reproduced in the Fall, 1972, issue of Pensée.
By then it already became known that Saturn has water, actually almost
consists of water or ice, and that chlorine is one of the very few elements
discovered on Saturn by spectral analysis. At another occasion I will
discuss some details of how I came to these conclusions.
It is also known by now that Jupiter has sulfur and there appears to be
spectral evidence for a compound of iron and sulfur on Venus. I firmly
believe that iron will be found on Jupiter unless most of it was smashed
into heavier elements by the Jovian bolts and in the mentioned memo I
suggested a search for it in atoniic or molecular form in and above the Red Spot.
In a most recent publication on the subject of Venus' spectrum that
appeared after Burgstahler wrote his paper, R. O. Prinn of M.I.T. examined
the idea of sulfuric acid and observed that "a surprising aspect of
spectroscopic studies of Venus has been the apparent failure to detect any
sulfur-bearing gases in the visible atmosphere" . He arrived at the
conclusion that sulfuric acid could reasonably be only at the very deck
(upper surface) of the cloud. Then Prinn pointed out that Young and
Young "did not suggest any feasible source for the sulfuric acid" and he
argued: "Even if Venus received very little FeS during accretion from the
primitive solar nebula, or if a considerable amount of FeS lies in the core,
only extremely small quantities of sulfur are required to saturate the
atmosphere [of cloud's deck?]. The element is of sufficiently high cosmic
abundance that cometary impact alone could provide all that is necessary."
Thus Prinn leaves unanswered what constitutes the main body of the clouds.
With hydrogen liberated by photodissociation as one of the final products
of burning hydrocarbons and entering into reaction with sulfur, the
possibility of the presence of small quantities of sulfuric acid in the
uppermost layer of the cloud cannot be entirely negated; but some sulfur and
iron compounds should be present. The main body of the clouds, however,
seems to be of organic nature, converted from the original hydrocarbons.
All statements in the following table are from Burgstahler's article in
this issue. It is immediately seen that the presence of organic molecules on
Venus is well supported by the spectral features in the ultraviolet,
infrared, and deep infrared, and by the physical characteristics of the
cloud particles (refractive index, volatility).
The sulfuric acid, on the other hand, needs to be dissolved in 25% of
water to meet the refractive index. It does not account for the ultraviolet
features and can account for only single features in the deep infrared, but
for no feature whatsoever in the near infrared.
In the near infrared a few hydrocarbons tested by Plummer (out of tens of
thousands of hydrocarbon and other organic molecules possible) produced
reflection spectrum features which are "not observed, or rather, observed
less strongly in the near-infrared spectrum of Venus" (Burgstahler) and this
despite the admitted fact that C-H bands would be obscured in this range by
CO2 bands, this therefore being an inferior range for the
identification of hydrocarbons on Venus (Burgstahler).
Then how fair is it to state that "none [no hydrocarbons] have been found
which do not appear to be excluded (from Venus' clouds] by the absence of
requisite bands in the near infrared" (Burgstahler)? Or how proper is it to
assess the entire range of the "infrared evidence in the spectroscopically
accessible regions" of the Venus atmosphere as "tenuous at best"? And this
independent of the question as to what is in deeper layers of the cloud, or
what was the content of the atmosphere in the past.
||Volatility and Chemical Compatibility
||Ultraviolet Spectrum And Color
||Near Infrared 2.1-2.5 Microns
||Infrared 3.2-3.5 Microns
||Deep infrared 8-15 Microns
||"Various organic compounds, including cettain types
of unsaturated hydrocarbons, have refractive indices and volatility
properties that are reasonably consistent with those of the cloud
||"Some [organic compounds, including unsaturated
hydrocarbons] possess at least part of the ultraviolet absorption
displayed by Venus"
||"The many intense CO2 lines in this
spectral region [of Venus] make detection of the generally weak C-H
(and related N-H & O-H) overtone and combination bands extremely
difficult and uncertain. Such bands often coincide with positions of
|"In the inftared proper (2.5 to 15 microns),
hydrocarbons and their derivatives display much stronger C-H
absorption bands than in the near infra-red."
|"Olefinic substances [Hydrocarbons]... could have the observed
||"In particular, the Strong fundamental C-H (bands) in the
3.2-3.5 microns region are especially useful for identification.
This portion of the [Venus] spectrum shows intense absorption, only
a small portion of which can be due to CO2"
"Although the origin of these bands in the spectrum of Venus is
still uncertain, they are not inconsistent with an assignment to C-H
||"In apparent contradiction to the Venera 8 report
concerning the presence of ammonia in the lower Cytheria atmospherea
proposal has been advanced by G. T. Sill and developed recently by
A. T. Young that the cloud particles consist mainly of 75 percent
sulfuric acid [oil of vitriol] in water. At the temperature of the
upper part of the clouds (ca.-23°C) 75 percent H2SO4
has a refractive index of 1.44."
||"As a liquid at [-23°c] it can be expected to exist
as spherical droplets." "Co-existence of free ammonia with ...
sulphuric acid ... would appear to be contraindicated. Moreover, the
view has been expressed [by Kuiper et al.] that sulpliuric acid
clouds must 'most certainly be rejected due to other complications
this model would create.' "
||"The short-wave length absorption of Venus in the
near-ultraviolet, which produces the light yellowish color is
not accounted for by strong solutions of sulphuric acid."
||"75 percent sulfuric acid [exhibits] prominent absorption bands
at 9.5 and 11.2 microns."
|"T'he infrared spectrum of Venus exhibits a
significant amount of absorption in[the 6-8 and 10-14 micron]
regions... absorption that is not due to CO2, sulphuric
acid, or other known constituents of the atmosphere. Assignment of
at least a portion of this absorption to olefinic and/or other
organic compounds is not unreasonable."
 H. Spencer Jones, Life on Other Worlds (1952), p. 167.
 Harold C. Urey, Proceedings, National Academy of Sciences 38
(1952): 351; S. L. Miller, Science 117 (1953): 528; Journal of
the American Chemical Society 77 (1955): 2351.
 A. T. Wilson, Nature (17 Dec. 60); ibid., (6 Oct. 62).
 W. M. Sinton, Mem. Soc. Roy. Sci. Liege (1962): 300; M. Bottema, et al.,Astrophysical
Journal 140 (1964): 1640.
 L. D. G. Young and A. T. Young, Astrophysical Journal 179
(1973): L39; also A. T. Young, Icarus 18 (1973) 564.
 R. O. Prinn, Science 182 (14 Dec. 73): 1132ff.
A CONCLUDING NOTE FROM PROFESSOR BURGSTAHLER
I appreciate Dr. Velikovsky's lucid discussion of my article, and
especially the provocative tabular presentation of spectral comments drawn
from it. I wish also to take this opportunity to express my deep
appreciation to him for the valuable suggestions and various reprints he
kindly provided me at the time I began writing my article on the nature of
the atmosphere of Venus.
Through my reading bf Dr. Velikovsky's publications and my correspondence
with him, I have of course been well aware of his arguments for the presence
of iron and sulfur in the clouds of Venus. His priority in the matter should
have been noted in my discussion of proposals for the origin of the
yellowish appearance of the planet, and I offer my sincere apologies to him
and to readers of Pensée for not having done so. At some future
date I hope he will present a more detailed discussion of the nature of the
powerful discharges he proposes can transmute oxygen into sulfur.
According to Prinn, the clouds of Venus are composed of an extensive haze
of sulfuric acid droplets formed from above as a result of a "very rapid
photo-oxidation of carbonyl sulfide [COS] in the upper atmosphere." This he
views as a continuing cyclic process fully compatible with the ammonia
detected by Venera 8 in the lower atmosphere.
The compatibility of sulfuric acid clouds with the sustained presence of
appreciable amounts of hydrocarbons, especially in the lower regions of the
atmosphere, would therefore also appear to be possible, but for the present
I would like to defer further comment.
Albert W. Burgstahler
PENSEE Journal VI