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Open letter to science editors


Venus' Atmosphere
Immanuel Velikovsky

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 [1]. 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 methods.

*Hydrocarbons of petroleum products consist of only two elements--carbon and hydrogen; carbohydrates, besides carbon and hydrogen, contain also oxygen.

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 [2]. 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 [3].

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) [4], 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 [5] 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" [6]. 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.

  Refractive Index 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
Hydrocarbons "Various organic compounds, including cettain types of unsaturated hydrocarbons, have refractive indices and volatility properties that are reasonably consistent with those of the cloud particles." "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 CO2 bands"


"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 refractive index."   "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 [bands]."

Sulfuric acid "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."



[1] H. Spencer Jones, Life on Other Worlds (1952), p. 167.
[2] 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.
[3] A. T. Wilson, Nature (17 Dec. 60); ibid., (6 Oct. 62).
[4] W. M. Sinton, Mem. Soc. Roy. Sci. Liege (1962): 300; M. Bottema, et al.,Astrophysical Journal 140 (1964): 1640.
[5] L. D. G. Young and A. T. Young, Astrophysical Journal 179 (1973): L39; also A. T. Young, Icarus 18 (1973) 564.
[6] R. O. Prinn, Science 182 (14 Dec. 73): 1132ff.


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


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