Mars was once believed to have canals, and some astronomers seriously argued that they were artificial.

The atmosphere of Venus was first observed in 1761. Wikipedia kind of skips over the period between the discovery of the atmosphere and the time when more detailed data from Mariner and Venera became available - did astronomers really resist the temptation to speculate about Venus' surface conditions in the intervening centuries? In fiction, Venus was often depicted as lush, green, and habitable under its cloud cover. Was this belief really constrained to fiction, or were there, as was the case with Mars, astronomers who took it seriously?

  • $\begingroup$ Not a belief by the scientific community per se (although one of the authors was a professional astronomer), but The Land of the Crimson Clouds explores precisely this possibility $\endgroup$ Sep 21, 2020 at 17:15
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I'd rather say that it was a seriously considered possibility. $\endgroup$
    – Greg
    Jun 28, 2021 at 7:39

1 Answer 1


The same WP article on Venus in fiction referenced by the OP documents one specific scientist who believed, in a nonfiction sense, that Venus is indeed the world envisioned by mid-20th-Century writers:

In 1918, chemist and Nobel Prize winner Svante Arrhenius, deciding that Venus's cloud cover was necessarily water, decreed in The Destinies of the Stars that "A very great part of the surface of Venus is no doubt covered with swamps" and compared Venus' humidity to the tropical rain forests of the Congo. Because of what he assumed was constantly uniform climatic conditions all over the planet, the life of Venus lived under very stable conditions and did not have to adapt to changing environments like life on Earth. As a result of this lack of selection pressure, it would be covered in prehistoric swamps.

So it might have been, actually, billions of years ago before the greenhouse effect went bad, but that is beyond the current scope.

The 1950s version of War of the Worlds had a slight problem with this belief. The Martians, faced with their planet nearing exhaustion, needed to find a new home, and Earth was supposed to be their only alternative after studying all the planets. Having Venus as another habitable planet would have complicated the plot. So the narrator skipped that planet because the Martians, suspiciously like the Earthlings before the Venera space program, could not "see and study" Venus under its clouds. Today the narrator might say, "They seriously considered the beautiful planet Venus, only to learn that the world was livable only within the clouds. They could not build floating cities, so they could not go there."

  • $\begingroup$ Silverberg wrote a couple short stories involving a very lush, permanentlly rainy Venus $\endgroup$ Sep 28, 2020 at 11:50
  • $\begingroup$ The same with Ray Bradbury's "All Summer in a Day", which we might say is a warning against bragging about things other people can't have. Ironically, it was published in 1954, not long before we were to learn the inconvenient truths about the Venusian surface. $\endgroup$ Feb 7, 2021 at 21:49

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.