January 6, 1969
Location: Leary, Georgia, United States
Carter is one of two U.S. Presidents who have reported
seeing a UFO before becoming the President. He later said,
"It was the darndest thing I've ever seen. It was
big, it was very bright, it changed colors and it was
about the size of the moon.. We watched it for ten minutes,
but none of us could figure out what it was. One thing's
for sure, I'll never make fun of people who say they've
seen unidentified objects in the sky."
Former US President Jimmy Carter.
Page 1 of the original handwritten report made by the
Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter
in 1973. (Credit: Grant Cameron, PresidentialUFO.com)
Page 2 of the original handwritten report made by the
Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter in 1973.
Grant Cameron, Presidential UFO
Carter UFO Sighting"
previously mentioned, Jimmy Carter is one of two U.S.
Presidents who have reported seeing a UFO before becoming
the President. In the various recountings of the sighting
told over the years, there have been many items about
the Carter sighting that have been recorded incorrectly.
Later on, there would also be many mistakes made in the
evaluation of the investigations of the sighting.
first mistake made in recording Carters UFO sighting
related to the date that the sighting occurred. The sighting
was first filed by then governor Jimmy Carter on September
18, 1973, based upon a request from Hayden C. Hewes, director
of the International UFO Bureau. The date that Carter
gave in his sighting report was October 1969. Later research
indicated that the actual date was more probably January
6, 1969. Some people reporting on the Carter sighting
were even using the 1973, date when Carter filed the details
of the sighting as the date for the event.
second mistake made by storytellers related to the 1969
UFO sighting, was that Carter was not the governor of
Georgia at the time of the sighting. He did not become
Georgia's 76th governor until January 12, 1971.
UFO sighting began shortly after dark on a windless night.
Jimmy Carter was standing outside the Lions Club
in Leary, Georgia, waiting for a meeting to start. Suddenly,
he and ten or more witnesses, sighted a red and green
orb radiating in the western sky. Carter described an
object that "it seemed to move towards us from
a distance, stop, move partially away, return, then depart.
Bluish at first; then reddish - luminous - not solid."
times," reported Carter, "it was as bright
as the moon, and about as big as the moon - maybe a bit
smaller. The object was luminous; not solid."
an interview with the Atlanta Constitution, Carter described
the moving nature of the event. He described the sighting
as a "very remarkable sight." This is an important
event, because many of the skeptical investigations done
on the Carter sighting, have tried to paint the event
as a ho-hum occurrence. None of the descriptions Carter
has made of the event have ever described it as ho-hum.
Carters mother Lillian also confirmed that Carter
had been very impressed by what he had seen. "The
UFO made a huge impression on Jimmy," she stated.
"He told me about the sighting many times. Hes
always been a down-to-earth no-nonsense boy, and the sighting
by him, as far as I am concerned, is as firm as money
in the bank."
had, in fact, described the UFO sighting many times in
the years since it occurred. In every instance, including
the latest known telling of the story at Emory University
in 1997, Carter has never backed off on the spectacular
nature of the event. He has also never conceded that was
he saw was some misidentification of a natural phenomena.
estimated that the object was three hundred to one thousand
yards away. He estimated that the event had lasted 10
minutes. Then the object disappeared. Carter was so impressed
by what he had seen, he recorded his impressions of the
event on a tape recorder at the time.
the ensuing years, there has been a great deal of discussion
as to what the UFO had been. Skeptical UFO buffs, such
as Robert Sheaffer, struggled to explain Jimmy Carters
sighting away, by stating that Carter had viewed the planet
Venus. Sheaffer, the vice-chairman of the UFO subcommittee
for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal,
wrote up his guess as to what the object Carter and the
others had seen in the July 1977 Humanist Magazine. Many
UFO "researchers" wanting to show that they,
too, can be "discriminating" joined in stating
Carter had viewed the planet Venus.
stepped forward quickly to challenge the accuracy of Shaeffers
claim. Sheaffers response to these challenges ended
up taking his Venus explanation from the shaky to the
bizarre. For example, Sheaffer argued UFO researchers
challenging his conclusions were wrong because they relied
on eyewitness testimony, and eyewitness testimony is unreliable.
There are, wrote Sheaffer, "volumes of scientific
analysis documenting unreliability of unsubstantiated
human eyewitness testimony." Yet Sheaffer, in his
own analysis of the case, had used eyewitness testimony
for one hundred percent of the data that he collected
to come to his Venus conclusion.
a response to a letter written to the Skeptical Inquirer
by Jon Beckjord, published in the Winter 1980-81 Skeptical
Inquirer, Sheaffer cited four books and articles Beckjord
could refer to that would show you "cant take
unsubstantiated testimony at face value."
the very next sentence of his reply, however, Sheaffer
retreated to eyewitness testimony. "I note that Beckjord
fails to mention," Shaeffer wrote, " that many
UFO proponents agree with me that the Carter UFO sighting
is a very poor one and that another Georgian standing
with Carter, as my Humanist piece makes clear, [was] quite
unimpressed with the light they saw in the sky."
Shaeffers Venus conclusion relied on the assumption
that Carters eyewitness testimony was inaccurate,
but the other eyewitness accounts were accurate.
the end, it is safe to conclude that the object was not
Venus, no matter how bad witness testimony might have
been. A review of the evidence would show:
Venus was in the southwestern sky on January 6, 1969,
not in the west as claimed by Sheaffer. Carter who had
spent watches, while in the Navy doing watches in cruisers
and destroyers, as a navigation officer, taking star shots
with a sextant, stated the object was in the western sky.
Carter described the object as being the "size
of the moon" or "slightly smaller than the apparent
size of the moon." Venus never appears this way.
Venus at the time was at between 15 and 21 degrees
over the horizon at 7:15 p.m. Carter, a trained observer
stated the object was 30 degrees above the horizon, or
almost double the height of Venus at the time.
Sheaffer described Venus as "being at its
brightest" on the date in question. It wasnt
at its brightest.
The witnesses declared that the object disappeared
after 10 minutes or at 7:25 p.m. Venus, on the evening
in question, was visible in the clear sky till 9:20 p.m.
If it had been Venus, it would still have been visible
for another 115 minutes after the witnesses claimed it
had disappeared in a clear sky. During these 115 minutes
the planet Venus would have increased in brightness (not
disappeared) as it approached the horizon. Venus does
not disappear, and would have been eliminated as a suspect
by a grade six astronomy class investigation.
of what the future President saw on that cold clear night
in 1969, it greatly impressed him. He spoke of the sighting
to many people including his Press Secretary Jody Powell.
Asked about the UFO event Powell said, "I do remember
Jimmy saying that he did, in fact, see a strange light
or object at night in the sky which did not appear to
be a star or planet or anything that he could explain.
If thats your definition of an Unidentified Flying
Object, then I suppose that is correct...I would venture
to say he has probably seen stranger and more unexplainable
things than that just during his time in government."
years after being President, when asked about the sighting
by citizens, Carter would still describe in detail the
events that he witnessed. On September 24, 1997, for example,
Carter spoke at the 16th annual Emory town Hall Meeting
in Atlanta. When the question and answer session began,
the first question was about the UFO sighting that Carter
had experienced 28 years before. As he had on so many
previous occasions Carter described in detail what he
had seen. In conclusion to the story, he stated that "he
knew of no extraterrestrials and he did not think any
were on the UFO he saw."
a Southern Governors Conference a few years after the
sighting, Carter stated "I dont laugh at
people anymore when they say theyve seen UFOs. Ive
seen one myself. It was the darndest thing I have ever
seen. It was big, it was bright, it changed colors and
it was about the size of the moon."
1975, Carter again mentioned the UFO as he was campaigning
for President. He told a Washington Post reporter, "A
light appeared and disappeared in the sky. It got brighter
and brighter . . . I have no idea what it was . . . I
think the light was beckoning me to run in the California
June 1976, Jimmy Carter was quoted by the National Enquirer
as promising, "If I become President, Ill
make every piece of information this country has about
UFO sightings available to the public and scientists.
I am convinced that UFOs exist because I have seen one."