In 1969, Jimmy Carter saw a UFO in Georgia. Here's what happened.

President Jimmy Carter was convinced he saw an unidentified flying object (UFO) in 1969. He didn’t file a report until 1973 when an agency called the International UFO Bureau sent him a form to fill out.

According to the form on file at The Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum, President Carter filled it out by hand when he was serving as governor. A second agency, the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP), had a similar form with typed responses dated the same as the one filled out by Mr. Carter on September 18, 1973.

Where did Jimmy Carter see a UFO?

The president wrote he made the observation in the small South Georgia town of Leary, about an hour and a half south of Columbus. In both forms, he wrote that 10 other members of the Leary Georgia Lions Club also saw the UFO. It was shortly after dark, around 7:15 p.m. he wrote they were waiting for a meeting that was set to begin at 7:30 p.m. when the bright object caught their attention.

What did he see?

In both sighting forms, the president didn’t provide a definitive answer as to what he believed he saw. He described an anomalous ball of light that changed size, brightness, and color over a period of 10–12 minutes. He didn’t hear anything coming from it, no whirl of a helicopter or buzz of an engine.

As for the location in the sky, he says stars were visible but not the sun and moon. The object was approximately 30° above the horizon. He wrote, "[it was] about the same as moon, maybe a little smaller. [The object] varied from brighter/larger than [a] planet to [the] apparent size of [the] moon."

It was difficult for Mr. Carter to describe the proximity of the object, writing it was as close as 300 yards at times and as far as 1,000 yards at others. The UFO was self-luminous. In the president’s own words, "[The object] seemed to move toward us from a distance, stopped-moved partially away-returned, then departed. Bluish at first, then reddish, luminous, not solid." After nearly 15 minutes, the president said the object "moved to a distance, then disappeared."

2007 interview about UFO sighting

The president spoke about the UFO and what he learned while serving as Commander in Chief during a 2007 interview with the podcast "The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe."

After nearly four decades at the time, Mr. Carter still wasn’t sure what he thought he saw. He did mention the large military base nearby at Fort Benning. He told the podcasters most of the witnesses that evening back in 1969 believed it to be some device being tested. However, the president said he’d never been able to assess exactly what it might’ve been.

The podcasters asked the president about whether the object he saw could’ve been Venus. Mr. Carter was quick to shoot that down. He and the other witnesses were outdoorsmen and knew what the planets looked like at different times of the day. He even said he was "thoroughly familiar with Venus" and owned an amateur telescope. He said with certainty the object he saw was not Venus.

Carter’s further interest in UFOs

In the documents on file at the Jimmy Carter Library was a small blurb from NICAP about the president’s sighting. It said, "During the recent presidential campaign, Jimmy Carter was quoted by the National Enquirer as stating, ‘If I become President, I'll make every piece of information that this country has about UFO sightings available to the public. I am convinced that UFOs exist because I have seen one.’" We know that didn’t come to pass, but many have speculated about what the president learned during his time in office.

The podcasters asked the president whether he pursued the government’s knowledge of UFOs during his time in office. Mr. Carter said, "I can’t respond to that."

When the hosts pressed by asking whether the government is hiding information about UFOs, the president said, "So far as I know, they’re not hiding information."

Carter’s credibility

Carter’s education lends further credibility to his reports. In his official bio on the Carter Center’s website, it says he attended Georgia Southwestern College and the Georgia Institute of Technology and received a B.S. degree from the United States Naval Academy in 1946. Mr. Carter took graduate work at Union College in reactor technology and nuclear physics in Schenectady, New York while on assignment for the Navy’s nuclear submarine program.