Jimmy Carter was a Georgia state senator from 1963-1967, the 76th governor of Georgia from 1971-1975, and the 39th president of the United States from 1977-1981. But, before he was any of these things, he would experience a close encounter.
Jimmy Carter witnessed an unidentified flying object (UFO) in 1969, two years before he became the Governor of Georgia. There was a follow-up while he was Governor of Georgia, when Jimmy Carter was asked by the International UFO Bureau in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, to file an official report about the sighting.
The document that Jimmy Carter wrote has now become a significant point of contention between ufologists and the news media. The description is clear and precise, but there are several issues regarding the story.
Did Jimmy Carter see a UFO, or did something else happen?
Jimmy Carter’s UFO Sighting
On the evening of the UFO sighting, Jimmy Carter gave a speech at a branch of a Lions Club in Leary, Georgia, in 1969. The Lions Club, or The International Association of Lions Clubs/Lions Clubs International, is an international service organization established in 1917 in Chicago, Illinois.
According to the report by Jimmy Carter, around 7:15 p.m., one of the audience members got the attention of the future president and pointed out a strange object in the night sky. This strange object was a bright white shape, almost as bright as the Moon that had already risen in the sky that night. The light was around 30 degrees above the horizon from where the stunned audience members stood transfixed on this strange object.
The object moved towards the spectators and then stopped just beyond some pine trees, changing colors between red, black, blue, and then white before disappearing into the distance. Jimmy Carter believed that the unidentified object was self-illuminated and was composed of a material that was not inherently solid in nature.
Carter claimed that he was not alone in observing the UFO. He said there were around 10-12 people with him, and the experience lasted between 10-15 minutes.
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In his 1973 official report, Jimmy Carter said, “There were about 20 of us standing outside of a little restaurant, I believe, a high school lunch room, and a kind of green light appeared in the western sky. This was right after sundown. It got brighter and brighter. And then it eventually disappeared. It didn’t have any solid substance to it; it was just a very peculiar-looking light. None of us could understand what it was.”
Issues with the Story
After the report was submitted, an official investigation into the incident occurred in 1976, the year before Jimmy Carter became President of the United States. When this investigation occurred, a few issues came to light.
One issue with Carter’s UFO report was the date this happened has been questioned. Carter said that the UFO sighting occurred in October 1969; however, investigators found that the Lions Club had records that stated the event occurred nine months before October 1969.
The minutes from the Lions Club indicated that Jimmy Carter gave his speech at the Leary chapter of the Lions Club, which took place on January 6, 1969… not October. It is worth noting however that the setting of this meeting that Carter described in his report and in later media interviews matched the Lions Club’s meeting minutes, and so it may just be the date that is erroneous.
However, more problematically the Lions Club minutes did not mention the meeting being interrupted by a UFO sighting. Some people do point out that the Leary Lions Club officially disbanded months before the alleged October 1969 sighting occurred, making the January date more plausible.
It is worth noting that just because the meeting minutes do not mention this alleged UFO sighting doesn’t mean it didn’t occur. Minutes taken in a meeting record the events, topics, and any votes that occur during said meeting. Mentioning a UFO sighting that interrupted the meeting would not be something the club’s secretary would necessarily record.
The second issue of Carter’s report and the subsequent investigation was that when individuals who were present at the Lions Club meeting were questioned about the incident, most people either didn’t remember the event occurring that night or didn’t view the incident as anything important or incredible. Only one man remembered seeing anything that night and said it was a small blue light in the sky, possibly a weather balloon, but it happened a while ago and didn’t stand out much to him.
While most UFO sightings are disregarded as nonsense by eccentrics, Jimmy Carter’s education is often mentioned as a factor that makes the story credible. Jimmy Carter was educated at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Georgia Southwestern College and earned his B.S. degree from the United States Naval Academy in 1946.
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After graduating from the Naval Academy, Carter was assigned to New York for the Navy’s nuclear submarine program. He took additional coursework on nuclear physics and reactor technology during this period.
Jimmy Carter had repeatedly made statements saying that with his knowledge of physics, he was able to rule out any possibility that he had witnessed an alien spacecraft. He admitted that the best way to describe what occurred was “an unexplained event.”
It is worth noting that this experience of witnessing a UFO significantly impacted Jimmy Carter and his belief in UFOs and reports of UFO sightings. In 1976, while on his presidential campaign, he told reporters that if he became president, he would make a point to instill “a policy of openness” on the subject.
Jimmy Carter was quoted as saying, “One thing’s for sure, I’ll never make fun of people who say they’ve seen unidentified objects in the sky. If I become President, I’ll make every piece of information this country has about UFO sightings available to the public and the scientists.” But, once he was elected as the President of the United States, he never made the information public, citing potential negative implications on our country’s defense system as a reason for not following through on his promise to make UFO information publicly available.
One possible explanation for the UFO sighting has been that what Carter saw was Venus. On January 6, 1969, the night sky was clear in Leary, and Venus was “near its maximum brightness” and was visible to the west, which was the direction Carter claimed the UFO came from.
Two different ufologists have agreed that what Jimmy Carter saw that night was not a UFO but rather the light of Venus, or Venus’s halo. When asked in 2007 in an interview about this theory, Jimmy Carter disagreed with the idea that he actually saw Venus.
He said he was an amateur astronomer who had seen Venus before and was familiar with its image. Because he was unable to find a scientific explanation for what he saw, Carter told reporters he assumed it was possibly a military aircraft from Eglin Air Force Base, which is about a 3-hour drive to the west and south from Leary, Georgia, on the Florida Panhandle.
In 2020, a study was completed on “high-altitude barium release clouds, concluding what Carter saw was ‘totally consistent’ with what had been launched from Eglin AFB that night.”
Top Image: Jimmy Carter in 1976. Almost a decade before he reported seeing a UFO after a speech at a function. Source: Anefo / Public Domain.