President Jimmy Carter has often been referred to as
the "UFO President" due to the fact that he publicly claimed to
have had a UFO sighting prior to becoming president. Moreover, he was the
only president on record to actually file a UFO sighting report related
to his sighting. Thirdly, on at least one occasion while campaigning for
president, Carter declared that, if elected, he would "make every piece
of information this country has about UFO sightings available to the public
The Carter UFO Sighting
As 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.
The first mistake made in recording Carter's 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.
The 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
Carter's UFO sighting began shortly after dark on a
windless night. Jimmy Carter was standing outside the
Lion's 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."
"At 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."
In 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.
Jimmy Carter's 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.
He's 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."
Carter 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 mis-identification of a natural phenomena.
Carter 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.
In 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 Carter's 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.
Others stepped forward quickly to challenge the accuracy
of Shaeffer's claim. Sheaffer's 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.
In 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
"can't take unsubstantiated testimony at face value."
In 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." Shaeffer's Venus conclusion relied on the
assumption that Carter's eyewitness testimony was inaccurate, but the other
eyewitness accounts were accurate.
In 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
Sheaffer described Venus as "being at it's brightest"
on the date in question. It wasn't 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.
Regardless 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 that's 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."
Many 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."