Josef Allen Hynek (May 1, 1910 - April 27, 1986) was a U.S. astronomer, professor, and ufologist. He also served as scientific advisor to Project Blue Book from 1952 to 1969. He is the creator of the well-known close encounter system for classifying Unidentified flying objects.

Early Life and CareerEdit

Hynek was born in Chicago to Czechoslovakian parents. In 1931, Dr. Hynek received a B.S. from the University of Chicago. In 1935, he completed his Ph.D in astrophysics at Yerkes Observatory. He joined the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Ohio State University in 1936. He specialised in the study of stellar evolution, and in the identification of spectroscopic binaries. During World War II, Hynek was a civilian scientist at the Johns Hopkins Applied Science Laboratory, where he helped to develop the navy's radio proximity fuse. After the war, Hynek returned to the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Ohio State, rising to full professor in 1950. In 1956 he left to join Professor Fred Whipple, the Harvard astronomer, at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, which had combined with the Harvard Observatory at Harvard. Hynek had the assignment of directing the tracking of an American space satellite, a project for the International Geophysical Year in 1956 and thereafter. In addition to 247 optical stations around the world, there were was also 12 photographic stations. A special camera was devised for the task and a prototype was build and tested and then stripped apart again when, on Oct. 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched its first satellite, Sputnik. After completing his work on the satellite program, Hynek went back to teaching, taking the position of professor and chairman of the astronomy department at Northwestern University in 1960.

Projects Grudge and Blue BookEdit

n response to many Unidentified Flying Object sightings, the U.S. Air Force established Project Sign, which became Project Grudge, which in turn became Project Blue Book in 1948. Hynek was contacted by Project Grudge to act as scientific consultant for their investigation of UFO reports. Hynek would study a UFO report and subsequently decide if its description of the UFO suggested a known astronomical object.

When Project Grudge hired Hynek, he was initially skeptical of UFO reports. Hynek suspected that UFO reports were made by unreliable witnesses, or by persons who had misidentified man-made or natural objects. In 1948, Hynek said that the “the whole subject seems utterly ridiculous”, and described it as a fad that would soon pass. (Schneidman and Daniels, 110)

Eventually after examining hundreds of UFO reports including some made by credible witnesses, including astronomers, pilots, police officers, and military personnel, Hynek concluded that some reports represented genuine new empirical observations. When the fad did not pass and UFO reports contiuned at a steady pace, Hynek devoted some time to studying the reports and determined that some were deeply puzzling, even after considerable study. He once said, "As a scientist I must be mindful of the past; all too often it has happened that matters of great value to science were overlooked because the new phenomenon did not fit the accepted scientific outlook of the time." (Schneidman and Daniels, 110)

His attitude was also changed after conducting an informal poll of his astronomer colleagues, including Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto. A small, but in Hynek's opinion, significant number of astronomers had seen aerial objects that they could not account for with established, mainstream science. Most of these astronomers had not widely shared their accounts for fear of ridicule, or of damage to their reputations or careers.

Hynek was distressed by what he regarded as the dismissive or arrogant attitude of many mainstream scientists towards UFO reports and witnesses. The April, 1953 issue of The Journal of the Optical Society of America printed Hynek's article, "Unusual Aerial Phenomena", which contained what would become perhaps Hynek's best known statement: “Ridicule is not part of the scientific method, and people should not be taught that it is. The steady flow of reports, often made in concert by reliable observers, raises questions of scientific obligation and responsibility.”

Hynek stayed with Grudge after it was upgraded and renamed Project Blue Book. Air Force Captain Edward J. Ruppelt (Blue Book's first director), held Hynek in high regard: "Dr. Hynek was one of the most impressive scientists I met while working on the UFO project, and I met a good many. He didn't do two things that some of them did: give you the answer before he knew the question; or immediately begin to expound on his accomplishments in the field of science."[1]

Though Hynek thought Ruppelt was a capable director who steered Blue Book in the right direction, Ruppelt headed Blue Book for only a few years. Hynek has also stated his opinion that after Ruppelt's departure, Project Blue Book was little more than a public relations exercise, further noting that little or no research was undertaken using the scientific method.

In late March, 1966, two days of mass UFO sightings were reported in Michigan, which recieved signifigant publicity. After studying the reports, Hynek offered a provisional hypothesis for some of the sightings: a few of about 100 witnesses had mistaken swamp gas for something more spectacular. At the press conference where he made his announcement, Hynek made repeated, strenuous qualification that swamp gas was a plausible explanation for only a portion of the Michigan UFO reports, and certainly not for UFO reports in general. Much to his chargin, Hynek's qualifications were largely overlooked, and the words "swamp gas" were repeated ad infinitum in relation to UFO reports, and the explanation was subject to national derision.

Final yearsEdit

Late in his life, Hynek was critical of the popular Extraterrestrial hypothesis. He began expressing his doubts that UFOs are physical spacecraft from other planets. As Hynek himself said in October 1976: "I have come to support less and less the idea that UFOs are 'nuts and bolts' spacecrafts from other worlds. There are just too many things going against this theory. To me, it seems ridiculous that super intelligences would travel great distances to do relatively stupid things like stop cars, collect soil samples, and frighten people. I think we must begin to re-examine the evidence. We must begin to look closer to home."

Hynek eventually inferred a possible link between certain UFO reports and psychic phenomena. Many UFO reports, he said, seem to pertain more to accounts of poltergeists (cases where objects fly around the room and strange sounds are heard) and other types of 'psychic' manifestations than to 'actual solid items of nuts and bolts hardware.' 'That is one of the reasons,' added Dr. Hynek, 'why I cannot accept the obvious explanation of UFOs as visitors from outer space.' (1)

Hynek developed the Close encounter scale to better catalogue various UFO reports. Dr. Hynek was also the consultant to Columbia Pictures and Steven Spielberg on the popular 1977 UFO movie, Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

In November 1978, a statement on UFOs was presented by Dr. Allen Hynek, in the name of himself, of Dr Jacques Vallee, and of Dr Claude Poher. This speech was prepared and approved by the 3 authors, before the UN General Assembly. [1]

Hynek was the founder and head of the Center for UFO Studies.

On April 27, 1986, Dr. Hynek died of a malignant brain tumor at Memorial Hospital in Scottsdale, Arizona. He was 75 years old.

UFO booksEdit

  • THE UFO EXPERIENCE: A scientific enquiry (1972)
  • THE EDGE OF REALITY: A progress reports on the unidentified flying objects, co-authored with Jacques Vallee (1975)
  • NIGHT SIEGE - THE HUDSON VALLEY UFO SIGHTINGS, co-authored with Philip Imbrogno and Bob Pratt (1987)

External linksEdit


1. - J. Allen Hynek interview, The Unexplained Column, by Allen Spraggett, November 8, 1975.