One evening in 1969, two years before Jimmy Carter became governor of Georgia, he was preparing to give a speech at a Lions Club meeting. At about 7:15 pm (EST), one of the guests called his attention to a strange object that was visible about 30 degrees above the horizon to the west of where he was standing.
Carter described the object as being bright white and as being about as bright as the moon. It was said to have appeared to have closed in on where he was standing but to have stopped beyond a stand of pine trees some distance from him.
The object is then said to have changed color, first to blue, then to red, then back to white, before appearing to recede into the distance.
Carter felt that the object was self-illuminated, and not solid in nature. Carter’s report indicates that it was witnessed by about ten or twelve other people, and was in view for ten to twelve minutes before it passed out of sight.
In 1973 Carter said:
“There were about twenty 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.”
Speaking in a 2005 interview, Carter states:
“All of a sudden, one of the men looked up and said, ‘Look, over in the west!’ And there was a bright light in the sky. We all saw it. And then the light, it got closer and closer to us.”
“And then it stopped, I don’t know how far away, but it stopped beyond the pine trees. And all of a sudden it changed color to blue, and then it changed to red, then back to white. And we were trying to figure out what in the world it could be, and then it receded into the distance.”
While puzzled by the object and its origins Carter, himself, later said that while he had considered the object to be a UFO—on the grounds it was unexplained—his knowledge of physics had meant he had not believed himself to be witnessing an alien spacecraft.
On January 6, 1969, the sky was clear in Leary and the planet Venus was near its maximum brightness and in the direction described by Carter. Ufologist Robert Sheaffer concluded that the object that Carter witnessed was a misidentification of Venus.
Ufologist Allan Hendry did calculations and agrees with the assessment of it being Venus. This could also be the Venus “Halo”, as was discussed on The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe podcast in a 2007 interview with Jimmy Carter. In the interview Carter stated that he did not believe the object was Venus, explaining that he was an amateur astronomer and knew what Venus looked like.
The sighting is said to have had a personal impact on Carter and his perception of UFOs and UFO sightings. During his 1976 election campaign, he is said to have told reporters that, as a result of it, he would institute a policy of openness if he were elected to office, 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.”
He also said that he was certain of the existence of UFOs because he had seen one.
When he became president-elect, he approached the director of the CIA, George H. W. Bush, to ask what the organization knew about extraterrestrials. Bush refused to answer the question and Carter backed off and later said there were no governmental UFO cover-ups.
AgentZero from Area51.org, though, has his own theory. He wrote that Bush refused to say anything at first during the Carter-Bush meeting on the given topic, but Carter persisted. Later, Carter was allegedly spotted in the Oval Office, holding his head and weeping, and he would never say what he learned from the CIA.
Despite his earlier pledge, once elected, Carter distanced himself from disclosure, citing “defense implications” as being behind his decision.