Venusians: the Planet Venus in the 18th-Century Extraterrestrial Life Debate

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In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries it became possible to believe in the existence of life on other planets on scientific grounds. Once the Earth was no longer the centre of the universe according to Copernicus, once Galileo had aimed his telescope at the Moon and found it a rough globe with mountains and seas, then the assumption of life on other planets became much less far-fetched, and, in general there were no actual differences between Earth and Venus, since both planets orbited the Sun, were of similar size, and possessed mountains and an atmosphere. If there is life on Earth, one may ponder why it could not also exist on Venus. In the extraterrestrial life debate of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Moon, our closest celestial body, was the prime candidate for life on other worlds, although a number of scientists and scholars also speculated about life on Venus and on other planets, both within our solar system and beyond its frontiers. This chapter discusses the arguments for life on Venus and those scientific findings that were used to support them, which were based in particular on assumptions and claims that both mountains and an atmosphere had been found on Venus. The transits of Venus in the 1760s became especially important for the notion that life could thrive on Venus. Here, I detect two significant cognitive processes that were at work in the search for life on Venus, i.e., analogical reasoning and epistemic perception, while analogies and interpretations of sensory impressions based on prior knowledge played an important role in astrobiological theories.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)145-167
JournalJournal of Astronomical Data
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2013

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • History of Ideas

Free keywords

  • extraterrestrial life debate
  • plurality of worlds
  • Venus
  • transits of Venus
  • analogical reasoning
  • epistemic perception


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