As HPL mentions in his article on Venus (Asheville [N.C.] Gazette-News from 27 February 1915; in Collected Essays: Science, Volume 3 by S.T. Joshi, 2005), this planet is the brightest star-like object in the heavens. It can occasionally be glimpsed during the day and can even cast a shadow at night. Venus is 66 million miles away from the sun. A Venusian day is 23 hours, 21 minutes long, while its revolution (year) is 225 days. Thus, unlike Mercury, Venus has some planetary characteristics similar to Earth. In addition, Venus comes closest to Earth than any other planet; at its closest approach, Venus comes within 24 million miles to Earth (The Planets by Dava Sobel; 2006).
The planet Venus; photo taken from the Pioneer Orbiter on 26 February 1979 (www.nasa.gov)
One way Venus is similar to Mercury is that since it can be observed close to the sun during sunrise and sunset, it was once thought to be two separate celestial bodies. In the morning hours it was once called Phosphorus, the light bearer and in the evening hours it was called Hesperus (S.T. Joshi, 2005).
In addition to being the closet planet to Earth, Venus also has a similar size and mass of the Earth dubbing it our “sister world.” Through his telescopic observations Galileo discovered the phases of Venus (see below). However, beyond its phases little else was observed on the surface of Venus in 1609. Galileo described it as a disc, completely covered over with clouds. This lead to speculations of a world teeming with life. Cloud cover meant water vapor which, in turn, could mean swamps filled with ferns and dinosaurs.
The phases of Venus (www.eso.org)
With the aid of spectrophotometry, it was discovered in the early 1920s that the clouds of Venus were not water vapor but were composed of bone dry silicates (Cosmos by Carl Sagan; 1980). In a number of his astronomical articles, as late as 1915, HPL cited that Venus may have life. I do know if HPL was familiar with the spectrophotometric data on Venus but he did not appear to be convinced one way or another. Like any objective scientist, he appeared to be open to credible information on the matter.
In addition to the atmospheric silicates a large amount of carbon dioxide was present in the cloud cover of Venus and updated speculations included a world covered with petroleum or carbonated oceans (Cosmos by Carl Sagan; 1980).
It was not until the early 1960’s when the Soviet Union started the Venera space probe program that humanity received a view of the planet Venus. The planet is so hot that it emits radio waves; Venus is extremely hot (900 degrees F) and is exposed pressures so high that the surface is primarily molten rock. The clouds are stained yellow to due sulfur and also contain sulfuric acid not water vapor like originally thought. Venus is a planet suffering from a runaway Greenhouse effect (Cosmos by Carl Sagan; 1980).
Venera 11 lander (Wikimedia.org)
These “hell-like conditions” on Venus certainly took a toll on these space probes, which survived on the surface for between 23 minutes to a few two hours. I am sure this is not the Venus HPL had in mind when he was writing his fiction and in the next article we will discuss his references and use of this world in this tales. Thank you – Fred.