On September 18, 1973, then-Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter filed a report with the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP). He stated that four years earlier, he had spotted an unidentified flying object, or UFO. Do you know the answers to these trivia questions about one of the stranger events in U.S. politics?
What Exactly Did Jimmy Carter See? One evening in 1969, two years before he became governor of Georgia, Carter was preparing to give a speech at a Lions Club meeting. At about 7:15 pm, one of the guests called his attention to a strange object above the horizon to the west of where he was standing. Describing it as "the darndest thing I've ever seen", Carter reported that "the object hovered about 30 degrees above the horizon and moved in toward the earth and away before disappearing into the distance." Carter, as well as 10 to 12 other people who witnessed the same event, described the object as "very bright with changing colors and about the size of the moon." He later told a reporter that, after the experience, he vowed never again to ridicule anyone who claimed to have seen a UFO.
What Were Other Possible Explanations, and Why Didn't Carter Agree With Them? Many people thought Carter had spotted Venus on the horizon (the light was only about 30 degrees above the line of the horizon), but Carter insisted that it was not Venus. Two pieces of information back up Carter's assertion. One was that Carter was an amateur astronomer; he wouldn't have mistaken Venus for anything but a planet. The other was that Carter reported the light to be the size of the moon in that night sky. Venus is not going to appear to humans on Earth as being as big as the moon. That alone should have tipped off critics that the light wasn't Venus.
What Other Presidents and Politicians Have Seen a UFO? A good number, it turns out. Ronald Reagan spotted one in 1974, claiming he and others saw a light that hovered and then flew straight up. In 1997, then-Governor Fife Symington of Arizona was part of the mass of people who saw strange lights over Phoenix. In 2007, Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich admitted to seeing a UFO, though he was clear that he just saw something flying that he couldn't identify, as opposed to anything worthy of a conspiracy. In 1955, then-Senator Richard B. Russell of Georgia thought he saw a strange sight, and in 1973, then-Governor John Gilligan of Ohio claimed he and his wife saw something one night while driving.
What Was Carter's Reason for Not Releasing UFO Files?
Carter had made a promise on the campaign trail to release everything he could find on UFOs should he be elected president, but once he actually got into office, he backtracked. He claimed that releasing the information could be detrimental to defense programs and the safety of the country. Whether that meant that the information he found was top-secret and military in nature, or whether he was trying to give himself an easy out is unknown. Since then, people have tried to get other presidents and candidates to admit to UFO coverups, but no one has played along, except jokingly.