by Wal Thornhill
22 April 2006
The differences between the Earth and
Venus are so great that it is not reasonable or scientific to assume
they are twins. Evidence is provided for the recent history of Venus
as a cometary body.
“You are not looking at a twin
[Venus] to the Earth at all. There are very many substantial
differences, ...the differences are so great it makes you wonder
whether you could ever produce a twin of the Earth in some other
solar system when you can’t do it in your own.”
– S. Ross Taylor
Venus: a twin planet?
of Venus Express, now orbiting Venus
The following excerpts are from a report
by Robin McKie in the Observer, April 9:
This week a European spacecraft will
arrive for a date with Venus, our closest planetary neighbor.
Scientists hope the mission, made on a shoestring budget, will
reveal vital lessons on how unchecked greenhouse gases can turn a
world into a blistering Hades.
Venus Express, will study the planet's
acid clouds, searing heat, crushingly dense atmosphere and
hurricanes to find out why Earth's nearest neighbor has become a
place of insufferable heat and poison.
'Venus is very like Earth in that it
is the same size and has an orbit round the Sun close to ours,'
said David Southwood, head of science at the ESA. 'Yet
Venus went wrong. We did not. We want to find out why Venus
became our evil twin.'
Venus and Earth are almost identical in
size. In addition, both orbit the Sun in 'the Goldilocks zone', a
swath of space in which conditions are considered by astronomers as
being not too hot and not too cold to prevent the evolution of life.
Venus should make ideal planetary real estate, in other words.
Yet it is the solar system's most
inhospitable planet. …the planet's principal problem - from a human
point of view - lies with its greenhouse effect, scientists now
realize. Venus's thick atmosphere traps solar radiation and heats
the world to boiling point.
Prospects of finding life here have
since been rated - not surprisingly - as vanishingly low, and
astronomers' keenness to study Venus has waned.
Science is evidence based. However,
our beliefs filter what is acceptable as evidence. The
scientists involved bring to this mission a number of unwavering
beliefs and assumptions that jeopardize their inquiry from the
very outset. Their keenness to study Venus would benefit from a
broader view. The first assumption has become an idée fixe:
that Venus is a twin of the Earth – that they are the
same age and have a similar history.
This unproven notion has become a
'fact' by consensus of opinion and incessant repetition.
The astronomer V. Axel Firsoff
"…my impression has been that
much of what Thomas Kuhn has called 'normal science'
has degenerated into mindless support of orthodoxy and the
so-called 'consensus of opinion', which is arrived at by a
process of one scientist repeating what another has said in
a kind of mirror-gallery regression for the fear of falling
out with his (or her) colleagues. In the end nobody seems to
know how this 'consensus' has originated, but anything that
is out of step is ruthlessly suppressed."
However, most of the greatest
discoveries in history came about because an individual broke
with the consensus. In 1950, years before the space age,
Immanuel Velikovsky concluded from his extensive
interdisciplinary research that the planet Venus was remembered
from the time of the dawn of civilization as a brilliant cometary body.
He concluded in his best-selling
book, Worlds in Collision, that,
"The night side of Venus
radiates heat because Venus is hot. The reflecting,
absorbing, insulating and conducting properties of the cloud
layer of Venus modify the heating effect of the sun upon the
body of the planet; but at the bottom of the problem lies
this fact: Venus gives off heat."
Here we had two cherished beliefs
being demolished at once – that something the size of a planet
could be a comet, and that Venus recently had a different orbit.
Velikovsky was "ruthlessly suppressed." Although later findings
from space probes supported his conclusion, they made no
difference to the consensus opinion.
Astronomers minimized the importance of Velikovsky's remarkable
claim or simply dismissed it as a 'lucky guess', although one
noted scholar acknowledged at the time that Velikovsky had a
remarkable record of successful predictions and no failures. The
discovery that Venus was almost red hot made it imperative for
scientists to invent an explanation. The result was the
"enhanced" or "runaway" greenhouse effect.
originally proposed the greenhouse theory more than 60 years
He predicted that Venus would be
warmer than the Earth by a few tens of degrees Celsius due to
the trapping of infrared radiation in the planet's lower
atmosphere. After the Venera and Mariner probes to Venus showed
how unearthly are the temperatures there, Carl Sagan
proposed the "enhanced greenhouse effect" in 1960. This was
followed by a "runaway greenhouse effect" postulated by S. I.
Rasool and C. de Bergh in 1970.
According to James Pollack,
for the enhanced greenhouse effect to work, a vital 0.1 per cent
water vapor as well as 0.02 per cent sulphur dioxide and some
unspecified heat absorbing particles in the clouds are required
in addition to 96 per cent carbon dioxide in the Venusian
The fact is that Venus is an unearthly planet.
As Dr. Ross
Taylor says, Venus is not a twin of the Earth at all. It
simply doesn't fit the consensus view. And if the view about 'twinship'
is mistaken, then the theory about common origins is
questionable. What if the idea of an uneventful history of the
solar system is merely a comforting fiction?
We can't assume that the Earth and
Venus were 'born' at the same time and have existed peacefully,
for the most part, where we now find them. We cannot be sure
what the Sun has done in the past. Differences between the two
planets cannot be attributed to small causes growing gradually
into a large effect over eons. It makes a nice story but it is
unlikely, wishful thinking.
Time spans of billions of years
appeals to armchair theorists and computer modelers who can
extrapolate present conditions backwards in time – providing a
pretence of scientific rigor. The pretence comes about because
the theorists and modelers ignore the acknowledgement by orbital
experts that the many bodies of the solar system are subject to
chaotic motion if gravity is the only force at work.
That sweeps the rug from under the second assumption – that we
know the origin and history of the solar system. Sure, we have
an elaborate and unsubstantiated theory, which appears
convincing from endless repetition as 'fact.' But that theory
ignores many inconvenient facts and difficulties. It cannot
explain the countless differences between the planets. We have
no evidence that Venus was born at the same time as the Earth,
or that the two planets have always occupied their present
orbits. In our hubris, we choose to ignore mankind's early
obsessions with the odd appearance and behavior of the planets.
The accounts make plain that the
planet Venus was the archetypal comet. It was the unnatural
'fire-breathing dragon' in the sky. These facts are simply
ignored by modern science. It messes up their neat story. But if
we allow all human testimony of the planets to speak for itself,
we find that
Venus has a quite different history from
that of the Earth. Comparisons with the Earth will
lead nowhere. Nothing "went wrong" on Venus or "went right" on
The two planets are not the same age
and are only distantly related. There is no message for us from
the study of Venus for an imagined evolution of Earth's climate
into a hothouse.
That brings us to the assumption that the infernal heat of Venus
is due to a greenhouse effect. That could only be so if we
ignore everything we know about greenhouses.
"The much ballyhooed greenhouse
effect of Venus's carbon dioxide atmosphere can account for
only part of the heating and evidence for other heating
mechanisms is now in a turmoil," confirmed Richard Kerr
in Science magazine in 1980.
Nothing has changed since then. The
greenhouse theory does not explain the even surface temperatures
from the equator to the poles:
"atmospheric temperature and
pressure in most of the atmosphere (99 percent of it) are
almost identical everywhere on Venus - at the equator, at
high latitudes, and in both the planet's day and night
hemispheres. This, in turn, means the Venus weather machine
is very efficient in distributing heat evenly," suggested
NASA News in April 1979.
Firsoff pointed out the
fallacy of the last statement:
"To say that the vigorous
circulation (of the atmosphere) smoothes out the temperature
differences will not do, for, firstly, if these differences
were smoothed out the flow would stop and, secondly, an
effect cannot be its own cause. We are thus left with an
In another paper, Firsoff argues
that Venus's high albedo results in the absorption of
less solar energy than does the more transparent atmosphere of
"Increasing the mass of the
atmosphere may intensify the greenhouse effect, but it must
also reduce the proportion of solar energy reaching the
surface, while the total of the available energy must be
distributed over a larger mass and volume. Indeed, if the
atmosphere of Venus amounts to 75 air-masses, as is assumed
by Rasool and de Bergh, the amount of solar energy per unit
mass of this will be about 0.01 of that available on the
Such an atmosphere would be
strictly comparable to our seas and remain stone-cold,
unless the internal heat of Venus were able to keep it at
temperatures corresponding to the brightness temperatures
derived from the microwave emission."
The extraordinary high temperature
of Venus was perhaps one of Velikovsky's most outrageous and
In his "Challenge to Conventional
Views in Science" delivered at the symposium, "Velikovsky's
Challenge to Science," held in San Francisco on February 25,
1974, under the auspices of the American Association for the
Advancement of Science,
"I may have even caused
retardation in the development of science by making some
opponents cling to their unacceptable views only because
such views may contradict Velikovsky -- like sticking to the
completely unsupportable hypothesis of greenhouse effect as
the cause of Venus' heat, even in violation of the Second
Law of Thermodynamics."
The second law of thermodynamics is
a general principle, which places constraints upon the direction
of heat transfer. To maintain the high surface temperature of
Venus there should be no net flow of heat through the
atmosphere. However, when the Pioneer Venus probes looked at the
amount of radiant energy passing through the atmosphere, each
one found more energy being radiated up from the lower
atmosphere than enters it as sunlight.
And, if this were not enough, the
night probe site was shown to be about 2K warmer than it was at
the day probe site. The Russian probes, Vega 1 and 2, also
"recorded a pronounced upward radiation flux."
These findings simply show that
Venus' surface is hot and still cooling.
Velikovsky may have overstated his case (and mistakenly
created a false historical context), based on ancient
reports of Venus appearing as brilliantly incandescent as the
Sun. That brilliance, like that of the Sun, may have had a
predominantly electrical origin. Coal-dark comet nuclei are
known to exhibit a star-like brilliance when discharging
However, powerful electric currents
flowing in the crust of a cometary Venus would generate
heat near the surface very effectively.
"It's very disturbing that we do not
understand the climate on a planet that is so much like the
Earth," said Professor Fred Taylor, a planetary scientist
based at Oxford University and one of the ESA's chief advisers
for the Venus Express mission.
"It is telling us that we really
don't understand the Earth. We have ended up with a lot of
Taylor's confession is refreshingly
candid. However, such confessions of ignorance from astronomers
and planetary scientists never seem to result in questioning
fundamental theoretical assumptions. For example, the most
violent winds in the solar system are found on the most distant
planet – Neptune. It shouts to us that the driving energy of
weather systems is not simply radiant solar heating. Of course,
internal heat is invoked.
But that doesn't explain the
ferocious upper atmosphere winds. On Venus, surface winds are
less than walking pace. However, the upper winds speed about the
planet in four days, while the planet rotates backwards in 243
days. Such atmospheric 'super-rotation' is a mystery. It is
telling us we don't understand weather on any planet.
This fact should give pause to those
who think they know that 'global warming' of the Earth is a fact
and that human activity is responsible.
Such puzzles are recent, however.
Throughout history, Venus has simply
been seen as the heavenly embodiment of a deity. Intriguingly, this
was invariably a female one. For example, the Babylonians, Ancient
Greeks and Romans all linked it with their goddesses of love. Venus
was later revealed to be a planet, one that was assumed to be more
or less the same as Earth.
Only its permanent cloud covering
prevented astronomers from working out the details of these
similarities. Even in the Fifties, popular science books depicted a
mist-shrouded world either of deserts or of swamps and ferns. A few
more fanciful versions had dinosaur-like creatures lumbering about
in the background.
Then the first robot spacecraft - built by Russia and the US -
reached Venus and sent back data that astounded astronomers. The
planet [atmosphere] was unbelievably hot, dense, and had virtually
no oxygen. Russia tried landing probes on the surface.
crushed flat by the atmosphere's incredible pressure.
'On Earth, atmospheric pressure is
one ton per square foot,' said Taylor. 'On Venus, it is 100
Earth's sister was also found to have a
surface temperature of 450C and a covering of thick clouds of
sulphuric acid. As a vision of Hades, it could hardly be beaten. On
top of these disturbing discoveries, scientists also found that a
day on Venus - the time the planet takes to make one full rotation -
is the equivalent of 243 days on Earth. By contrast, a Venusian year
- the time it takes to make one revolution of the Sun - is a mere
Thus, on Venus a day is longer than a
The planet also rotates on its axis in
the opposite direction to the Earth, so the Sun - if it could be
seen through the Stygian gloom beneath its thick cloud - would
appear to rise in the west and set in the east.
This recital of the unearthly
features of Venus should be sufficient to dispel any idea that
the planet is a twin of the Earth. The offhand classical
'goddess' reference exposes the ignorant and dismissive attitude
of astronomers toward ancient stories about the planetary gods.
It is this failing that allowed Velikovsky to brazenly
walk through a doorway in their hallowed halls they never
Ancient stories about the planets
were never before examined critically or forensically. It suited
theoretical astronomers to assume that the planets always moved
like clockwork and to regard early reports about planetary gods
and their celestial power struggles as fantasy.
The clue to the feminine attribute of Venus is found in the
descriptions of the planet's long, flowing cometary 'hair.'
Venus was described as a 'hairy star,' a 'star that smoked' and
as 'a stupendous prodigy in the sky.' So it is significant that
one of the earliest space-age discoveries about Venus was its "cometary
magnetotail," in the form of invisible "stringy things," or
plasma current filaments, stretching as far as the Earth's
A power surge in those filaments
today would cause them to glow, and Venus would form a
'stupendous' cometary apparition in the sky. The forensic
evidence would stand up in court, showing that Venus was a comet
within human memory. Therefore, the solar system must have a far
more lively history than the "once upon a time, long, long ago"
story we have been taught.
And we should not forget the
ambivalent attitude of the ancients toward Venus. Not only was
she the beautiful goddess of love, but also her alter ego was
Medusa the Gorgon, with her (cometary) hair of writhing snakes
and petrifying countenance. She was also the demonic witch,
riding her broomstick (comet) across the sky.
How can a planet be a comet?
The answer is simple once we
acknowledge that a comet is an electrical plasma discharge
phenomenon, independent of the size of the comet nucleus. In the
nineteenth century, astronomers believed space was a vacuum that
could not carry electric currents. In the space age, astronomers
found that space is not empty, it is an electrically conducting
plasma environment. So the argument was inverted: because plasma
is a near perfect conductor, voltage differences could not be
sustained between objects in space.
This naïve view persists today.
However, the pioneers of plasma science knew, for example, that
a negatively charged body in diffuse neutral plasma draws
positively charged particles toward it, leaving behind an outer
sheath of negatively charged particles. The electric field
between the separated charges forms a stable 'double layer,'
which has across it most of the voltage difference between the
body and the space plasma.
The 'double-layer' serves to form an
insulating sheath, or 'plasmasphere,' so that there is no
electrical interaction with other charged bodies, so long as
their plasma sheaths do not touch. The 'magnetospheres' of
planets are actually cometary plasmaspheres, which happen
to trap a magnetic field inside. The Sun also sits at the focus
of its plasmasphere.
Within each plasmasphere the
electric field is weak, but any body on an eccentric cometary
orbit encounters a rapidly changing plasma voltage as it races
toward or away from the Sun. The comet deals with this situation
by discharging in the characteristic form of plasmasphere
glow and cathode jets. (There is no sensible conventional
explanation for comet jets or their huge coma.)
The jets curve away from the Sun to
form the familiar comet tails.
electrical model of the solar
system, any body on a sufficiently eccentric orbit about the Sun
will exhibit cometary features. For ancient people to have seen
Venus as an Earth-threatening comet, Venus must have had an
eccentric orbit that brought the planet near to Earth.
Electrical discharging heated the crust of the planet and
created the filamentary electrical scars wreathed about it.
Lightning occurring in a
high-pressure gas causes this filamentary "Lichtenberg" pattern.
At low atmospheric pressures,
cratering is more common – as we see on the Moon. The lack of
craters on Venus led planetary scientists to conclude
conventionally that the surface is very young. If Venus were as
old as the Earth, it required a recent volcanic overturning of
the entire Venusian crust.
Such an unlikely and ad hoc event is unnecessary in the
The emerging sciences of plasma
cosmology and the electric universe provide the mechanism by
which rocky planets like Venus are born from the core of a dwarf
star or gas giant undergoing electrical and/or dynamical stress.
When a planet is born, it discharges fiercely to its parent in
its new electrical environment.
Venus is a newborn planet
with a heavy atmosphere still shedding its natal heat. It also
suffered electric crustal heating in encounters with the
plasmaspheres of other planets and in exchange for orbital
energy in the Sun's electric field.
So we watch with great interest the data coming back from the
Venus Express spacecraft. Already, in the first images from
Venus, we find confirmation of an earlier prediction.
On February 5, 2005, in
explaining the mysterious north polar vortex on Venus, I wrote:
"…we should expect to see
evidence of the twisted pair configuration at the poles of
Venus, if the input current is sufficiently strong and this
model is correct."
"The Venusian polar dipole shows
the precise configuration and motion of Birkeland current
pairs in plasma discharge experiments. That includes a
surrounding spiral vortex."
Professor Taylor had written earlier
about the Venusian north polar vortex:
"the absence of viable theories
which can be tested, or in this case any theory at all,
leaves us uncomfortably in doubt as to our basic ability to
understand even gross features of planetary atmospheric
So there was no reason, other than
an appeal to symmetry, for scientists to expect a similar vortex
at the south pole of Venus.
Rome, Italy, and Observatoire de Paris, France
Venus Express has returned the first-ever images of the hothouse
planet's south pole from a distance of 206,452 kilometers,
surprisingly clear structures and unexpected detail.
The images were
taken on April 12 during the spacecraft's initial capture orbit
after successful arrival on April 11, 2006.
Captured by the
Virtis (Visible and Infrared Thermal Imaging Spectrometer)
Monitoring Camera (VMC) onboard Europe's Venus Express probe,
the image shows a
"vortex" over the hothouse planet's south pole.
Mission scientists are already intrigued
by a dark "vortex" feature, which can be clearly seen in one image.
The false-color VIRTIS composite image shows Venus’s dayside at left
and night-side at right, and corresponds to a scale of 50 kms per
pixel. The day half is a composite of images taken via wavelength
filters and chiefly shows sunlight reflected from the tops of
clouds, down to a height of about 65 km above the planet’s surface.
The more spectacular night half, shown
in reddish false color, was taken via an IR filter at a wavelength
of 1.7 microns, and chiefly shows dynamic spiral cloud structures in
the lower atmosphere, around 55 km altitude.
The darker regions correspond to thicker
cloud cover, while the brighter regions correspond to thinner cloud
cover, allowing hot thermal radiation from lower down to be imaged.
The above diagram
shows the main characteristics of the Venusian north polar dipole.
The diameter of the
collar is about 5000 km.
Credit: F. W. Taylor.
Composite image: W. Thornhill.
Venus Express science team members say
they want to know how these vortices remain stable and where they
get their energy. This goes to the heart of what drives the
super-rotating upper atmosphere of Venus. So I repeat and expand
here some of the closing comments from my Feb 5, 2005 article.
Venus, as shown by its cometary magnetosphere (plasmasphere), is
still discharging strongly to the solar plasma.
infrared emission seen from the polar dipole is due to the
dissipation of electrical energy in the upper atmosphere of Venus.
The polar dipole has a variable rotation rate and it varies the
position of its axis of rotation with respect to that of the planet.
It was observed to move 500 km from the Venusian pole in less than a
day and return just as quickly. The variable nature of the
electrical input to Venus via the Sun and the snaking about of the
Birkeland currents explain both these characteristics.
Of particular interest are the linear filaments sometimes seen
connecting the opposite sides of the hot spots.
"It is virtually impossible, even
with complete license, to begin to speculate in any detail as to
what mechanism could give rise to such a curious effect."
The answer, in the
Electric Universe model is simple.
They are a feature seen in simulations of the behavior between two
converging Birkeland current filaments where plasma becomes trapped
in the elliptical core between them.
Spiral galaxies are the grandest cosmic plasma discharge phenomena
in the universe. The Venusian polar dipole exhibits the same
morphology as the early stages of development of a spiral galaxy
from the interaction of two intergalactic Birkeland current
streams. And that includes a filamentary connection between the
two current "hot spots" in the manner observed on Venus.
The enormous scalability of plasma
phenomena allow for such a comparison.
Yet several tantalizing questions
remain unanswered about our strange planetary neighbor and, as
technology has progressed, instruments that can probe the planet
through its thick cloud veil have been developed. 'You can think
of this mission as the Return to the Forgotten Planet,' added
McCoy. 'We are going back to find answers to questions that are
a lot more important to Earth today than they were 30 years
In particular, scientists want to
understand how Venus became the victim of its greenhouse effect.
'Venus is the queen of the
greenhouse,' said Dimitri Titov, a mission scientist for
'On Earth our atmosphere traps a
little heat, and keeps us nice and warm. Morning on Earth would
be freezing cold if it was not for our greenhouse warming, which
adds about 40C to average temperatures. But on Venus it adds
several hundred degrees.'
It is not simply that our wayward sister
gets more solar radiation than Earth, scientists stress. Yes, it is
closer to the Sun, but the energy differential is not that great.
Something else is involved - and the obvious candidate is carbon
dioxide. Venus's thick atmosphere is almost entirely made of CO2,
which is known to be highly effectively at trapping and holding the
Hence Earth's impending climate crisis
as man-made emissions build up in our atmosphere.
As we saw earlier, carbon dioxide is
insufficient to create a greenhouse effect that will raise the
surface temperature of Venus to that of molten lead. This
argument cannot be used to suggest an impending climate crisis
on Earth. The Sun, in its response to the local galactic
electrical environment, controls our climate.
Human activity on Earth is
insignificant in comparison.
But why has Venus got so much carbon
'The answer may be that it lost its
water some time in the remote past,' said Taylor. 'On
Earth, carbon dioxide is absorbed by the oceans, where it forms
carbonate minerals and over the millennia is deposited as rock.
That process was arrested early on Venus when it lost its
In other words, it was Earth - not Venus
- that changed. Billions of years ago both had thick atmospheres of
carbon dioxide but, thanks to our oceans, which continue to absorb
the gas, we lost ours. Venus - with no oceans - kept its carbon
'We should not be too complacent,'
added Taylor. 'As temperatures rise, seas become less and less
able to hold on to carbon dioxide. Soon they will absorb less of
the gas and may eventually start to give it off. That will have
a very serious impact on our planet.'
Here we see assumption heaped upon
assumption coming to a conclusion that is entirely unjustified.
The conventional histories of both planets and their atmospheres
are completely speculative.
On the other hand, see
Titan - A Rosetta Stone for early Earth?
for an outline of the recent histories of both planets.
As to the cause of the disappearance of
Venus's water, a key theory - to be tested by Venus Express -
centers on the idea that the planet's upper atmosphere is battered
by solar storms. Without a magnetic field like Earth's to protect it
from these solar particles, water vapor was lost to space.
Essentially the planet's oceans boiled
I answered this question "why
doesn't Venus have much water?" in
Cassini's Homecoming in June
"When performing comparisons, we must allow for the fact
that the Venusian atmosphere is being modified continually by
electric discharge activity on the surface of that planet. It
has increased the carbon dioxide content of the Venusian
atmosphere at the expense of nitrogen and water vapor.
Scientists think that most of Venus'
water must have split into hydrogen and oxygen and all the
hydrogen was lost to space. But if so, where is the oxygen that
was left behind? The four Pioneer probe craft didn't find it in
the atmosphere. The answer is that it has combined with carbon
monoxide to form a heavy atmosphere of carbon dioxide.
The process I envisage is this:
"Venus probably began with an
atmosphere more like Titan's and the Earth's, where nitrogen
dominates, and with more water. It suggests that Saturn must
have considerable nitrogen at depth in its atmosphere. The
icy rings and satellites of Saturn and abundant water on
Earth also point to water on Saturn. On the Venusian
surface, nitrogen molecules are converted to carbon monoxide
molecules by a catalytic surface nuclear reaction in the
presence of red-hot iron.
The brilliant French chemist,
Louis Kervran, when investigating carbon monoxide
poisoning of welders, discovered this surprising nuclear
transformation. The carbon monoxide reacts at the hot
surface of Venus with water vapor to form carbon dioxide and
hydrogen. It is a well-known industrial process. The
hydrogen produced escapes from Venus.
This process explains the
puzzling discovery made by Venus landers that the water
vapor concentration diminished as they approached the
Venusian surface. [It also explains the steady stream of
hydrogen escaping from the top of Venus's atmosphere at
present and the 'phenomenally high' proportion of 'heavy
hydrogen' (deuterium) in its atmosphere.]
A purely chemical approach to
the puzzles of the Venusian atmosphere is not likely to
And there is the question of those
sulphuric acid clouds. Accounting for these takes more effort,
though again scientists believe they have answers. Venus is assumed
to be highly volcanic and is frequently racked by massive eruptions
that vent vast amounts of material into the atmosphere, with sulphur
a key component.
Mixed with other gases, this falls as
gentle sulphuric acid drizzle.
'We can see volcanoes on Venus from
the radar images sent back by previous probes,' said Taylor.
'But these do not show if there are
plumes of ash coming out or if molten lava is streaming down the
sides of their calderas, so we don't know if the volcanoes of
Venus are active. However, the infra-red detectors on Venus
Express will show up features like that. Then we can start to
understand Venusian volcanoes and the planet's internal
In the end, however, it will be Venus
Express's studies of the planet's runaway greenhouse effect that
will dominate the probe's research activities.
Most of the 'volcanoes' on Venus are
electrical scars. That may be why no obvious lava flows occurred
during the Magellan Orbiter radar surveillance of the planet. A
steady fall in sulfur dioxide levels detected by the Pioneer
Orbiter over a time span of several years may have been due
to a giant volcano erupting shortly before. But it also possible
that another simple nuclear reaction is taking place at the
surface of Venus, involving the combination of the two atoms of
oxygen in an oxygen molecule to form one atom of sulfur. It is a
process occurring today in plain view on Jupiter's moon, Io.
In any case, volcanoes are an
electric discharge phenomenon so that the discovery of active
volcanoes on Venus cannot be used as a distinguishing test for
or against the electrical model of Venus.
'The Apollo mission had a huge
impact on people in the Sixties,' said Taylor. 'For the
first time, we could see Earth from distant space. You could see
how small and finite it was. That affected people's thinking
about the world.
'Venus should now have a similar impact on the public
imagination,' he added. 'We are going to see - graphically -
what happens when greenhouse heating runs out of control on a
planet. That should concentrate a lot of minds.'
It is hard to imagine what evidence
would be accepted as falsifying the belief in the conventional
history of the solar system, other than the entry of another
dwarf star into the Sun's electrical domain. Good science
requires that a theory make specific predictions that can be
tested. So much the better if the claims are unusual. Almost
every space probe is launched with the promise that it will
unlock the secrets of the solar system. Yet astronomers are
always surprised by their discoveries.
The nebular theory of solar system
formation has turned out to be hopelessly non-predictive. Under
these circumstances, it is rational and scientific to question
the assumptions that underpin the theory and to consider
alternatives. That is not done. It seems we are dealing with
irrational beliefs. Like biblical exegesis, the scripture
remains untouched while the interpretation is adjusted to fit
new, discordant data. And there is no more discordant
astronomical data than the infernal heat of Venus.
Believing the greenhouse effect is responsible for the high
temperature of Venus will ensure that any conclusions drawn will
be wrong. Believing that Venus is a twin of the Earth will
ensure the continuance of a fictional history of both planets.
I look forward to Venus Express
providing more information to one day blow the roof off the