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How Can Venus Be a UFO?

In an effort to explain UFOs, many debunkers have cited them as sightings of Venus. However, not all unidentified flying objects can be solved this easily.

By James ObergPublished 7 years ago 10 min read

A celebrated UFO report, widely publicized in the 1970s, is Jimmy Carter's sighting in Georgia, before he was governor. Hundreds of UFO writers and lecturers refer glowingly to the "Jimmy Carter UFO," though not a single one of them appears to have actually investigated the report. In light of statistics showing that 90 to 98 percent of all such instances can readily be identified as scientific phenomena (at least a quarter of these cases turn out to be bright planets), one suspects that UFO buffs are afraid that just such a solution would explain away the Carter sighting and thus deprive them of a good publicity gimmick.

In mid-1977, UFO investigator Robert Sheaffer, generally regarded as a skeptical but highly competent analyst, published results of his own research on the Jimmy Carter sighting. Sheaffer was able to determine the date of the event through records of Carter's speaking engagements, and found that while in October 1969 Carter first mentioned the sighting (this, in a report filed four years later), it actually must have taken place on January 6, 1969, after a speech he gave at a Lions Club in Leary, Georgia.

Carter had described a light "as bright as the moon" that seemed to approach and recede repeatedly. When Sheaffer compared the elevation and bearing of the UFO Carter described to a sky chart, he discovered that the brightest object in the sky that night was—the planet Venus. The future president had reported that 10 other witnesses had been present, but when Sheaffer checked with many Lions Club members, they generally remembered the speech but not any UFO. Only one member, the president of the local club, who must have been standing with Carter after the speech, remembered the actual incident. He recounted how they had watched a light in the sky, which he had thought was a weather balloon, but he was unable to corroborate Carter's account of the object's movement.

In the months following Sheaffer's announcement, UFO experts generally avoided comment. In fact, the UFO community continued to act as if there had been no inquiry or plausible explanation at all. References to the "Jimmy Carter UFO" continue unabated.

Venus or a UFO?

The Carter sighting would seem to be but one more instance of the omnipresence of Venus in the recent history of "identified" UFOS.

Venus was named in honor of the goddess of beauty, for its brilliance in the evening and morning skies. For years astronomers regarded it as "earth's twin," perhaps a hospitable world much like our own planet. But space probes have destroyed this notion. The real Venus, with temperatures near 1000 degrees Fahrenheit, air full of choking carbon dioxide and sulfuric acid fumes, and pressures greater than those beneath an ocean, is a hell planet.

Venus has been hell for UFO investigators, too. "No single object has been misinterpreted as a flying saucer more often than the planet Venus," wrote pro-UFO theorist Dr. Jacques Vallee. Venus plays so prominent a role in the generation of UFO reports it has been humorously nicknamed 'the queen of UFOs.' "

It can be difficult for a naive observer to appreciate the ease of misperception of Venus. Literally millions of UFO sightings have been touched off by the planet Venus, according to statistics from the Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS) in Evanston, Illinois. These include reports from astronauts, pilots, policemen, ordinary citizens, and, as we have seen, a future president.

But UFO investigators through years of experience know that Venus, shining brilliantly, flashing colors, appearing to dart back and forth or to spin wildly, can indeed give rise to bizarre reports from intelligent, sober, and otherwise trustworthy individuals. Often, the complex process of human perception and memory creates an extremely strange report so that many witnesses themselves afterwards refuse to accept the Venus' explanation.

Venus Continues to Deceive

Vallee collected a series of UFO descriptions made during an incident in 1957 that turned out to be of the planet Venus:

  • "Round object, size of a dime, emitting beams of light"; "large oval object, brilliant orange, seen for one hour"
  • "Cigar-shaped object, size of a pea at arm's length, long tail with three blue trails, with sudden sidewise motion"
  • "Object the size of a basketball, silvery, then red, seemed to be spinning"; "pear shaped, size of a B-52, metallic, seen with binoculars"
  • "Round object with triangular section on top which was spinning like the streamers on a pole at the fair"

Despite the wavering accuracy of these reports, the phenomena were easily identified as Venus because of their reported direction and movement.

But can Venus really be so easily distinguished as Vallee would like to believe? Some famous cases provide interesting and troubling results.

Astronaut Michael Collins (later on the first moon-landing flight and then with the Smithsonian in Washington) was passing over Australia on the Gemini-10 mission in July 1966. He was standing up in the open hatch, taking star photographs, when he spotted a UFO.

"The sun is just beginning to come up," Collins radioed to the ground. "Also, to the east, we see an extremely bright object. I believe it's too bright to be a planet. It's north of Orion about six or eight degrees. Is it the Gemini-8 Agena [satellite]?"

But Collins was wrong, as he later candidly confessed: "I think I was fooled by the planet Venus." Star charts confirmed the position of Venus right where Collins had seen his "extremely bright object...too bright to be a planet." One of the best trained sky observers in the world (or out of it) had been fooled by Venus.

The astronaut was not the first pilot to mistake Venus for a nearby craft. Thousands of World War II pilots, flying at altitudes higher than ever before frequented by men, often reported being paced by a bright glowing object. On occasion, gunners opened fire, fearing they were being attacked by secret Axis air weapons. But they were not in danger, just as the object was safe from their bullets—they had no chance of hitting the planet Venus.

Venus Becomes a Tool to Debunkers

Venus, on the other hand, has also been the fall guy for some cases in which desperate debunkers have stretched facts rather than not come up with an explanation. The most famous such event is probably the "Mantell Case" of 1948, When a pilot chased a UFO high into the sky over Kentucky, then apparently blacked out from lack of oxygen and crashed.

What had he been chasing? The bright image was also seen from an air base control tower, but all that investigators could determine was, Venus had generally been in the direction of the UFO and might have been visible in daytime. But with no other ideas and a dead pilot to explain away, authorities released a categorical identification of the killer UFO as Venus.

Years later, investigators came across declassified records of a giant, stratospheric spy balloon launched upwind of the sighting area a few hours earlier. Designed to carry automatic cameras across Russia, the balloons were part of a top secret program that had not been disclosed even to Air Force investigators—even though balloon-program officials must have known that one of their tests had led to the freak death of Captain Mantell, luring him above his safe altitude.

So Venus was off the hook. It had not led a man to his death. The best it could do, years later, was to lead a man on a merry chase.

In the predawn hours of April 17, 1966, Ohio state trooper Dale Spaur chased a UFO for almost 160 kilometers across Ohio into Pennsylvania. Later, Air Force investigators claimed that Spaur, a former race car driver, had become overexcited by the brilliant planet Venus and had imagined it was a UFO only a few dozen meters in front of his speeding patrol car. But independent UFO investigators disagreed, pointing to the distinctly un-Venus like maneuvers of the UFO at the start and finish of the great chase and to reports of other witnesses.

Father Gill

The most unusual UFO sighting with a possible Venus connection has to be the famous “Father Gill" case, which occurred near a remote mission station at the eastern end of New Guinea in June 1959.

Skeptics dismiss the case as a gross misidentification of a haze-distorted Venus—but it seems a bit more complex than that. Believers label it a close encounter of the third kind, in which aliens actually waved to a group of startled earthmen—but there are nagging doubts about that version, too. The best that can be said is, the report from Father Gill at Boianai is likely to remain a mystery forever.

Father Gill reported a large disk shaped object, emitting rays, surrounded by smaller objects, with humanlike figures walking around on top. When the missionary and some natives waved, the figures waved back.

The problem is this. In the direction Gill says he saw the UFO, Venus was shining near its brightest. When Venus set, Gill recorded that his UFO disappeared. That some unusual optical effect was present in the skies over New Guinea is supported by eyewitness accounts from other missionaries down the coast.

Father Gill later admitted that his small UFOs were probably twinkling stars, but insisted his disk was not. Gill also claimed to have seen Venus separately from the UFO, but CUFOS analyst Allan Hendry pointed out that the rarely seen planet Mercury was brightly shining in the sky where Venus would be expected, and Gill might have mistaken it for Venus.

The People from Venus

George Adamski first met the people from Venus in 1952, according to his published accounts. In August 1954 he was taken on board a Venusian scout ship with an all-girl crew for a short jaunt around the moon. On the hidden far side, Adamski saw lakes, rivers, and prosperous cities—which were gone by the time our astronauts got there.

He also discoursed at length with interplanetary sages, who revealed to him the philosophical secrets of the universe.

The Adamski flying saucer photographs are among the most famous of UFOs ever published. But despite the fame, Adamski (who died in 1965) is generally regarded as a fraud. The late science fiction editor Ray Palmer, who more than anyone helped to publicize the concept of "flying saucers from Outer space," revealed that Adamski's books in the 1950s were rewrites of bad science fiction manuscripts Adamski had unsuccessfully submitted. Last year, UFO researcher Ray Stanford claimed that Adamski admitted to him in a moment of candor that this whole flying saucer business was financially motivated to replace the income he had brought in as a rum-runner during Prohibition.

Today, the Adamski stories have nonetheless experienced something of a revival, as diehard Adamski loyalists from the 1950s are reinforced by UFO theorists of the 1970s. This line of thought runs that Adamski's experiences were genuine but that he had been deliberately lied to by the aliens for some obscure purpose still in dispute. UFO contactees such as Adamski, who were despised by the "nuts-and-bolts" UFO buffs in the 1950s (people who believed that UFOs were alien spaceships, but that the pilots had too much sense to talk to crackpots like Adamski), had become respectable in the 1970s.

It is not inconceivable, some UFO buffs suggest, that Venus actually is inhabited by aliens who have misled earth scientists through counterfeit radio signals. All human Venus probes may have been quietly destroyed and alien radio transmitters substituted.

It's a theory worthy of George Adamski at his best—or worst, depending on your point of view.

On the other hand, the secret inhabitants of Venus may be hostile. At least, that is what Karl Mekis claimed. He convinced thousands of people, and wound up in prison for it.

In 1953, Mekis began a publicity campaign announcing an imminent invasion from Venus. Operating from his headquarters in Santiago, Chile, the former SS guard offered terrified terrestrials an escape hatch: Mekis could sell them "survival passes" and minor posts in the post-invasion Venusian administration. He had been authorized to do so, or so he claimed, by an advance agent of the Venusian occupation forces.

Over the next six years, Mekis (moving to Rome to avoid the attention of Chilean authorities) accumulated a fortune of more than $300,000 and an army of believers who sent him all their money and then went out to beg, borrow, or steal more.

But passing through Austria on vacation in 1959, Mekis was arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to several years in prison on fraud charges.

Less than a year later, earth's first interplanetary probes reached Venus. It must have scared them off, since the invasion never came.

As the fleets of many more American and Russian space probes arrive at Venus in December 1978, they will be trying to pierce the cloudy curtains of secrecy surrounding that distant planet. But on another plane of consciousness, the planet Venus has itself been casting its essence across interplanetary distances to create mystery and confusion here on earth.

Venus has been mistaken millions of times for an airplane, a satellite, a spaceship, a weather balloon, and a dozen different configurations of flying saucers.

Millions of UFO sightings triggered by the veiled planet are a tribute to the grip Venus has on human imagination and perception. The goddess would have been pleased.


About the Creator

James Oberg

American space journalist and historian. Written ten books and a thousand magazine and newspaper articles. Among these books isRed Star in Orbit.

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