Sunday, August 30, 2020

Widespread Sightings Clinch that Jimmy Carter's UFO Sighting was a 'Space Cloud'

In a 2017 posting, I noted how it was suggested that Jimmy Carter's famous UFO sighting from back in 1969 might have actually been a rocket-launched Barium cloud, and not Venus as I (and many others) had earlier supposed. It now appears that this is correct. 

Let us recall a bit of history: Carter's sighting occurred in Leary, Georgia, about forty miles from his home town of Plains, on the evening of January 6, 1969. (Carter mis-remembered the date as sometime on October, 1969, but I contacted the Lions Club headquarters in Illinois, which established the date as January 6). The future President was then the local district governor of the Lion's Club, and had come to Leary to boost the local chapter. While standing outdoors at approximately 7:15 pm, waiting for the Lion's Club meeting to begin, Mr. Carter reported seeing a single "self-luminous" object, "as bright as the moon," which reportedly approached and then receded several times. Mr. Carter reports that his "UFO" was in the western sky, at about 30 degrees elevation. This almost perfectly matches the known position of Venus, which was in the west-southwest at an altitude of 25 degrees, azimuth 237 degrees. It was shining brilliantly at Magnitude -4.3, brighter than anything else in the sky. Weather records show that the sky was clear at the time of the sighting.

The southwest sky as seen from Leary, Ga, at about 7:15 PM January 6, 1969. The Bull's Eye shows the calculated position where a barium cloud would have been visible, quite close to Venus. (Sky chart generated using the free open-source program Cartes du Ciel.)

For more information about the sighting itself, see my 2017 posting. My article, "President Carter's "UFO" Is Identified as the Planet Venus" was published in The Humanist magazine, July-August, 1977. This information was repeated and shared widely, and was generally accepted by serious UFO researchers.
There the matter stood for, yes, forty years. But in 2016, Carl G. 'Jere' Justus, a former professor at Georgia Tech and a longtime contributor to the Carter library, wrote a comment on a website for the Skeptics Guide to the Universe, a popular skeptic podcast (Episode 561, April 6, 2016). In his commenet, Justus wrote,
I am virtually certain that I have identified the source of what it was that President Carter saw. In the 1960s and early 70s I worked on an Air Force sponsored project that studied the upper atmosphere using releases of glowing chemical clouds, produced by rockets launched from Eglin AFB rocket range in Florida. Some of these chemical clouds, notably sodium and barium, were visible by the process of resonance scattering of sunlight. Clouds of this type had to be launched not long after sunset or not long before sunrise. This was due to the fact that the cloud had to be in sunlight at high altitude, while it was still dark enough at ground level for the cloud to be visible against the dark sky. In Carter's official 1973 UFO report, as given in the Rhodes book, he stated that he had seen the phenomenon in October, 1969, at 7:15 pm EST.

However, it has been determined from Lions Club records that Carter must have seen the 'UFO' when he spoke to their Leary, GA Chapter on January 6, 1969. The report 'U.S. Space Science Program Report to COSPAR, 1970' (QB504.U54, Appendix I, page 154), documents that there was a barium cloud launched from Eglin AFB (Rocket Number AG7.626) and released on January 6, 1969 at 7:35 pm EST (January 7, 1969, 0035 UTC) [COSPAR stands for Committee on Space Research]. The reported altitude for this cloud was 152 km. With a distance between Leary, GA and Eglin AFB, FL of about 234 km, this cloud would have appeared in the sky at an elevation of 33 degrees (consistent with Carter's estimate of a 30 degree elevation). Carter's report notes that stars were visible, so the night must have been clear.

I can verify from personal experience that under clear skies, a barium cloud such as this would easily have been visible from the distance of Leary, GA. Carter reported the UFO 'appeared from West'. The direction of Eglin AFB from Leary, GA is approximately WSW. Thus this barium cloud at Eglin is consistent with Carter's reported 'UFO' as to time, elevation, AND direction. Furthermore, the appearance reported by Carter is totally consistent with a high altitude barium cloud. His report stated that it was 'bluish at first, then reddish, luminous not solid'. A neutral barium cloud would initially glow bluish or greenish, with parts of it taking on a reddish glow as some the barium becomes ionized in the high altitude sunlight. The size and brightness, reported as being about that of the moon, would also be consistent with a barium cloud at Eglin, as viewed from Leary, GA Carter has been reported as saying that he never believed that he had seen an alien spacecraft, but that he had no idea exactly what it was.
Justus expressed his frustration with trying to get this information to the Carter Library, but receiving no response. 

A second researcher, who doesn't want to be credited, submitted the following information about other sightings reported from that region on the evening of January 6, 1969. That pretty well settles the matter, in my view. When Venus is bright in the evening sky, people report it all the time as a UFO. However, they do not all do so at the same time. Rather, Venus reports are random errors, occurring randomly. When a number of people who are not connected in any way all make pretty similar reports of a UFO at the same time, it signals that something unusual was visible at that time. Not necessarily something extraterrestrial, but something you don't see every day.

Greenville News, Greenville, South Carolina, Wednesday,
January 8, 1969. Carter's sighting was Monday, January 6

The A.P.R.O. Bulletin carried accounts of widespread UFO sightings on the night of Carter's sighting



NASA photo of a Barium Cloud launched into the upper atmosphere.

Thanks to all of the researchers who worked on this. 

Here is the Carter UFO page on my website.


  1. Is there a realistic prospect for showing Jimmy Carter a photo or video of a similar incident and asking him if it reminds him of his sighting?

    (Perhaps including a few other different phenomena videos and asking him which, if any, reminded him of his sighting. That way, Carter would have the opportunity to select one, or none, rather than yes/no on one.)

    1. Which would then leave the incident bearing the weight of memory recall, which is - as repeated studies have shown - unreliable at the best of times. Probabilistic reasoning has to be based on more evidence than just recall; the evidence presented in this blog post is compelling and documented, making it a highly probable explanation.


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