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April 14, 1998

Velikovsky's Ideas Again

Venus Puzzles

In September last year (CATASTROPHISM, September 13, 1997) I posted a note on the work of the shamefully misrepresented work of Immanuel Velikovsky, where I commented that the evidence continues to accumulate that Venus is a young planet. This is despite the efforts of the Orthodoxy to select and twist the data to conform to the requirements of traditional gradualist theories, and ignore everything that won't. A number of people have been in touch to ask for more about what this evidence is--hard, scientific evidence, as opposed to interpretations of ancient myths and writings. Here, then, is a brief summary:

Temperature and excess heat.

The surface temperature of 750 deg K revealed by space probes in the 1960s came as a great surprise to astronomers, who had expected something modestly higher than Earth's, corresponding to Venus's smaller distance to the sun. Such a figure is fully consistent, however, with the theory of a recent origin for Venus and had been predicted on this basis, but was dismissed as a "lucky guess."

The conventional response is to explain Venus's temperature as the result of a "runaway greenhouse effect." This falls down for a number of reasons:

  • With surface pressure 90 times and mass 75 times Earth's, the atmosphere of Venus has thermal properties comparable to an ocean 3,000 feet deep. Penetration of solar energy is nowhere near sufficient to produce appreciable heating to any depth. Further, the high albedo (reflectance), means that only a minor portion of incident energy gets past the cloud tops to begin with. Heating at the base of the atmosphere due to solar input alone would be around 6 deg C above freezing.
  • Carbon dioxide, the major constituent of the atmosphere, is incapable of producing the postulated runaway on its own. It would require an additional component to "close" the critical 25 % transparency window that permits reradiation back into space at thermal wavelengths. Water vapor, the primary candidate, is conspicuously absent. Methane is a possibility, but puts proponents in the position of confirming another of Velikovsky's predictions (an atmosphere would be rich in hydrocarbon gases derived from the atmosphere of Jupiter) that was ridiculed when first put forward. Even so, the problem remains that solar penetration is inadequate for any runaway to happen.
  • Probably the most damning for the greenhouse theory is the data from all of the US and Russian probes showing that the thermal gradient of the atmosphere is from base to cloud tops, i.e. the heat source is at the bottom, not outside. In short, the claims that have been made publicly notwithstanding, the planet is not in thermal equilibrium. According to the probe data, the emitted surface infrared flux is 40 times more than enters as sunlight. About 2 percent of the heat at the surface can be attributed to solar input. Overall, Venus emits 15 percent more energy than it receives from the sun, implying a heat output 10,000 times greater than Earth's. Although Venus rotates 243 times more slowly than Earth (58-day dark period), nightside temperatures are slightly higher than on the day side--contradicting the notion that the sun is the heat source. Rigorous mathematical modeling by the thermodynamicist George R. Talbott showed that given an incandescent state 3,500 years ago as the recent-origin theory proposes, the cooling curve over that period yields a temperature today exactly as observed.
  • A solar heating model predicts large-scale atmospheric circulation in a north-south direction, transporting heat from the equator to the poles, which should be highly pronounced in view of the planet's slow rotation. Probe data show no such circulation. On the contrary, the entire atmosphere is in a state of super east-west rotation 100 times faster than the surface speed (5 m.p.h equatorial) at all latitudes. (Note. This enormous super-rotation of the atmosphere is consistent with the idea of evolution from a giant comet-like body, whose tail wrapped around the planet gravitationally as Venus slowed into its present orbit, and is still dissipating angular momentum.)

Atmospheric Composition

Argon isotope ratios: Argon 36 is primordial. Proportion should be comparable to Earths' if Venus is of comparable age. In fact, it is 300-500 times higher. Argon 40 is a decay product of Potassium 40, and again should be represented comparably if ages are similar. In fact, it is 15 times lower than Earth's. Both differences indicate a younger age for Venus.

Carbon dioxide. For planet hot and rich in hydrocarbons, CO2 should have decomposed to CO & O2 in billions of years. But there is little CO and no O2--consistent with an age of a few thousand years only.

Water vapor is absent, although volcanic outgassing should have supplied plenty on an ancient planet. The conventional answer is to hypothesize that the water vapor was photodissociated by solar ultraviolet into oxygen which recombined with the rocks, and hydrogen which escaped. The "gardening" of surface rocks needed to absorb the amount of oxygen liberated over billions of years, however, is unrealistic, and no plausible mechanism has been proposed to induce it. Also, this theory ignores the fact that photodissociated oxygen could be expected to recombine into high-level ozone just as it does on Earth, blocking out the high-energy ultraviolet and terminating the process.

Sulfuric acid present in the cloud tops but not at the surface. Again, a short life expectancy due to ultraviolet dissociation would be expected, causing decomposition in about ten thousand years.


Retrograde rotation is not compatible with the conventional model of accretion of the Solar System from a rotating nebular disk.


Indications consistent with the proposition of a young terrestrial-type planet:

  • No tectonic plates. 5/6 of Venus is continental crust, 1/6 is shallow basin. Implication is that processes of major continental fracturing, moving, and shaping have yet to occur.
  • The surface is dominated by volcanism in the form of large-scale lava flows flowing up through a thin crust. Impact craters would have long ago been obliterated if relics from activity billions of years ago. Viscous creep rates of rock at the temperatures of Venus's surface are such that the two main uplifted regions--almost certainly volcanic in origin--should have disappeared if Venus is ancient. With 100,000 volcanic formations, collapsed rivers, rising chambers, Venus has been described as the biggest volcano in Solar System.
  • Absence of erosion. The surface is scoured by superheated, dust-laden, highly corrosive winds, yet the rocks show relatively sharp, uneroded features--certainly compared to what would be expected after billions of years. Further, the atmosphere contains both hydrochloric and hydrofluoric acids, which would quickly be neutralized by contact with rocks. The combination of mechanical and chemical erosion should, over a protracted time, have created a thick soil, or regolith, but no such feature is found.

Those curious to read more might like to try Charles Ginenthal's book Carl Sagan and Immanuel Velikovsky (1995), which I also recommended previously (CATASTROPHISM, February 20, 1997). Ginenthal also produces a quarterly journal entitled The Velikovskian, dedicated to papers on these and related issues by a broad spectrum of writers. I can recommend the back issues for some fascinating reading.

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