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Yet Another Chapter...

  • Carl Sagan and "Velikovskian frogs" Velikovsky credited with Jupiter prediction at Pioneer 10 news conference

On December 2, 1973, a group of' scientists held a news conference at NASA Ames Research Center, the occasion being the fly-by of Pioneer 10 past Jupiter. The following exchange occurred during the news conference. (The ellipses in Sagan's remarks refer to comments he made about the slides being shown.)

DR. CARL SAGAN, astronomer, Cornell University

". . . Jupiter is a kind of remnant of the chemistry which was around in the early history of the solar system. It preserves for us the circumstances which were about on the earth in the early history of our planet, and, in particular, the atmosphere of Jupiter is composed primarily of hydrogen and helium, and smaller quantities of methane, ammonia, and almost certainly water, although water hasn't been directly detected yet, because it freezes out at the temperatures which we can see in the atmosphere of Jupiter. Now, that same mixture of gases is thought to be the primary is mixture of gases in the early atmosphere of the earth at the time of the origin of life. So it is possible to do experiments in which we mix together those gases, primarily hydrogen, methane, ammonia and water--we can also add, for example, hydrogen sulfide--and supply some energy and see what molecules are made ... One such experiment done several years ago in our laboratory at Cornell, in which we had a glass reaction vessel, into which is inserted an ultraviolet source surrounded by a quartz jacket, and in this reaction vessel at this moment are the gases I've just mentioned. They are colorless; the only color ... is from the irradiation. The gases are irradiated, and circulated out of the light and then back up in it. ... After, the same reaction vessel ... and you can see that we have produced some material, which is brownish colored, in very high yield. This material we have spent a lot of time trying to analyze. It is a very complex mixture of organic molecules, that is, carbon-based molecules, some of very high complexity, most of them of a kind called straight-chain hydrocarbons. There is an important, more minor constituent, in this mixture: if you drop this mixture in water, or in a dilute acid, you make amino acids-the building blocks of protein. And these are made in exceptionally high yield.

"In such experiments we have made something like 40 amino acids, 40 different kinds of amino acids. In biology there are only 20 that are used. We've made some of the sulfur-containing amino acids.

The point is, that this is an extremely efficient way to make the building blocks of life. There is nothing significantly different in these experiments than exists in the atmosphere of Jupiter, or Saturn, or Uranus, or Neptune, or the presumed Jovian planets of the stars. Therefore, organic matter should be falling from the skies of Jupiter like manna from heaven.

And, that is one relevant point for biology in the case of Jupiter.

If it has gone no further than this--the production of building blocks of life--that's well and good, and it means that Jupiter is a vast planetary laboratory that has been working for about 5 billion years on experiments related to the origin of life, and it's certainly of extreme interest to us. But, there are other aspects which are even more interesting ... The clouds of Jupiter have a characteristic brownish coloration--there is the Great Red Spot; you can see it's so-called because it's salmon pink--and there is, at least in my mind, a reasonable likelihood that the reason for the coloration of the clouds of Jupiter is because they are loaded with the same kinds of organic molecules as in the simulation experiments...

DR. JAMES W. WARWICK, radioastronomer, University of Colorado

... Since Carl Sagan has referred already to manna falling from the skies of Jupiter, I feel constrained to introduce my few moments with the comment that a quarter of a century ago Immanuel Velikovsky predicted that Jupiter would have strong radio emissions. And indeed, within a decade of that prediction, not as a result of it--despite it, as a matter of fact--observations confirmed that there were strong radio waves from Jupiter ...

DALE MEAD, science writer, San Jose Mercury-News

Dr. Warwick, I noticed you mentioned Velikovsky, who's a rather controversial author--so controversial that some people won't dignify his claims by acknowledging him. Do you see any other predictions that he may have made that ought to be taken seriously, and might even be either vindicated or shot down by this mission?


In front of this audience I probably should disclaim--actually, I made my remark because of Carl Sagan's comment about manna raining down from the skies of Jupiter; and that is another one of Velikovsky's comments about the history of the earth, which of course Carl didn't mention in that context. I think I'd rather defer answering that; if you push me real hard I'll get into it, but otherwise no.


Let me. Velikovsky explicitly predicts* the presence of frogs and flies in the clouds of Jupiter, which seems to me an unlikely hypothesis on various grounds.


Pioneer 10 doesn't have the resolution to see... ?


Pioneer 10 cannot detect Velikovskian frogs in the clouds of Jupiter, nor was it intended to. I think it would be a big mistake to give much serious attention to the speculative fiction of Immanuel Velikovsky. But, if you're interested in the subject, the AAAS is having a symposium in which science and Velikovsky will have a chance to confront each other for the first time, in February, in San Francisco.

*Velikovsky has never made such a prediction. He has mentioned the possibility that vermin may be found in the atmospheres of certain of the planets. The frogs are Sagan's own invention.


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