President Jimmy Carter's Sighting Of a UFO

Basic Information

In 1969, future US President Jimmy Carter saw a UFO while standing just outside the Leary Lion's Club in Leary, Georgia. He did not file a report about it until four years later, in 1973.

Carter speculated that the UFO "was probably an electronic occurrence of some sort," rather than a visitation from outer space. At any rate, the governor said, "it was obviously there, and obviously unidentified."

- from the September 14, 1973 issue of Atlanta Constitution.

International UFO Bureau Report

In his report, then-Governor Carter, said that he saw the UFO in October of 1969. He described it as being about 30 degrees above the horizon, in the sky to the west.
He said that while he watched it for 10 to 12 minutes, it changed brightness, size, and color.

Seemed to move tow(ard?) us from a distance
Sto(p?) move partially away Return then
depart Bluish at first - then reddish -
Luminous - not solid.

Elsewhere in the report, he described it as "At one time as bright as moon." In response to a question about the size of the UFO, he reported:

About same as moon maybe a little smaller Varied from brighter/lar(ger?) than planet to apparent size of moon.

Could Be Venus

In 1977, Robert Sheaffer wrote an article in the The Humanist magazine, taking a strong stance that Carter had simply seen the planet Venus.
Sheaffer's article begins:

President Jimmy Carter's widely-reported "UFO sighting," which he made public while Governor of Georgia, was in fact a misidentification of the planet Venus. Several errors of identification within Mr. Carter's report demonstrate that the eyewitness testimony of even a future president of the United States cannot be taken at face value when investigating UFO sightings.

Sheaffer goes on to state that the date of Carter's meeting at the Lion's Club in Leary was January 6, 1969, not October as Carter had reported. On that date, the planet Venus was indeed visible with the naked eye, and from Leary it would have been in the Western sky, at about 25 degrees above the horizon.

Everything is Subjective

Speaking in terms of the Scientific Method, Sheaffer's research certainly suggests that Jimmy Carter misidentified the planet Venus. However, it far from proves it. We have no easy way to test today what Carter saw in 1969. (See also the "In Science and Philosophy" section of the Verisimilitude page.)

Carter described the object as being (at one point) as large as the moon, which Venus never is from Earth. The moon (as seen from the earth) is about 1,800 arc seconds in size[3], Venus is always less than 70 arc seconds[2]. It's certainly possible Carter misjudged the size of the object at the time, or just misremembered when filling out the report 4 years after the fact. As observed from the earth, the Moon is 25 times the size of Venus in length, and thus over 600 times the surface area, so we're talking about a pretty significant mistake, if indeed Venus is what he saw.

Sheaffer's source on when Carter saw the UFO was not Carter, but rather just the official records of the speech in the Lion's Club International Headquarters in Oakbrook, Illinois. Carter was the "local district governor of the Lion's Club"[1] at the time. He gave a speech in Leary on January 6, but it's not outside the real of possibility that other Lion's Club business might have taken him to Leary in October of 1969, as he indicated.

So, the truth is, we'll never know the truth. Or at least never really know if what we suspect or believe is the truth, really is the truth.


1. Compilation of articles about Carter UFO sighting at - the title of the page you are on is taken from the debunkers page

Game and Story Use

  • Great example of how bias, agenda, and memory affect our interpretations. Shaeffer had an agenda, or at least a bias. I, the person who wrote the page above, also have a bias. Everything about UFO sightings is oozing with subjectivity.
    • Extrapolating from that, this is good characterization fodder:
      • Skeptical characters, such as The Scully, will use the Carter sighting as an example of how even well educated politicians can get confused about what they see, misremember dates, imagine UFOs, etc.
      • The Mulder, on the other hand will use the Carter incident as proof that UFO sightings are reported even by well-educated professionals, not just kooks. The President saw a UFO, and that somehow makes the whole topic less Urban Legend (or Alternative Science) and more reputable.
      • The person who saw the UFO may fall anywhere on the spectrum. Some will ponder it for years, and others will jump to conclusions (either prosaic or exotic). Some will laugh it off, others will dive into research to figure out what they saw, and some may even build cults around their experiences.
  • If the curiousity is really getting to you, one way to find out for certain what Carter saw would be to use a flying Time Machine to go back to January and October of 1969, and search the skies west of Leary. Of course, doing so my create a Stable Time Loop - what Carter saw might be your flying Time Machine!
  • If your game is set in 1969 and anywhere west of Georgia, you could use this sighting as an event or encounter. See the UFO page for ideas on what (other than Venus) the flying object might be.
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