Josef Allen Hynek (May 1, 1910 April 27, 1986)
was a United States astronomer,
He is perhaps best remembered for his UFO research. Hynek
acted as scientific adviser
to UFO studies undertaken by the U.S. Air Force
under three consecutive names:
Sign (19471949), Project
Grudge (19491952), and Project
Blue Book (1952 to 1969). For decades afterwards,
he conducted his own independent UFO research, developing
Encounter classification system, and is
widely considered the father of the concept of scientific
analysis of both reports and, especially, trace evidence
purportedly left by UFOs.
life and career
was born in Chicago to Czech parents. In 1931, 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 specialized in the study of stellar
evolution and in the identification of spectroscopic binaries.
World War II, Hynek was a civilian
scientist at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory,
where he helped to develop the United States Navy's radio
the war, Hynek returned to the
Department of Physics and Astronomy at Ohio State,
rising to full professor in 1950.
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
over 200 teams of amateur scientists around the world
that were part of "Operation Moonwatch", there
were also 12 photographic Baker-Nunn stations. A special
camera was devised for the task and a prototype was built
and tested and then stripped apart again when, on Oct.
4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched its first satellite,
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.
son, Joel Hynek, is an Oscar winning movie visual effects
supervisor who directed the design of the so-called camouflage
effect from the movie Predator.
Involvement in UFOs (Project Blue Book)
response to many "flying saucer" sightings (later
unidentified flying objects), the United States Air Force
Sign in 1948; this later became Project
Grudge, which in turn became Project
Blue Book in 1952. Hynek was
contacted by Project
Sign 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
Sign 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 whole subject seems utterly ridiculous",
and described it as a fad that would soon pass.
the first few years of his UFO studies, Hynek could safely
be described as a debunker. He thought that a great many
UFOs could be explained as prosaic phenomena misidentified
by an observer. But beyond such fairly obvious cases,
Hynek often stretched logic to nearly the breaking point
in an attempt to explain away as many UFO reports as possible.
In his 1977 book, The Hynek UFO
Report, Hynek admitted that he enjoyed his
role as a debunker for the Air Force. He also noted that
debunking was what the Air Force expected of him.
opinions about UFOs began a slow and gradual shift. After
examining hundreds of UFO reports over the decades (including
some made by credible witnesses, including astronomers,
pilots, police officers, and military personnel),
Hynek concluded that some reports represented genuine
shift in Hynek's opinions came after conducting an informal
poll of his astronomer colleagues in the early 1950s.
Among those he queried was Dr.
Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered the dwarf planet Pluto.
Of 44 astronomers, five
(over 11 percent) 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 (Tombaugh was an exception, having openly
discussed his own UFO sightings). Hynek also noted that
this 11% figure was, according to most polls, greater
than those in the general public who claimed to have seen
UFOs. Furthermore, the astronomers were presumably more
knowledgeable about observing and evaluating the skies
than the general public, so their observations were arguably
more impressive. Hynek was also distressed by what he
regarded as the dismissive or arrogant attitude of many
mainstream scientists towards UFO reports and witnesses.
evidence of the shift in Hynek's opinions appeared in
1953, when Hynek wrote an article for the April 1953 issue
of the Journal
of the Optical Society of America titled
"Unusual Aerial Phenomena",
which contained what would become perhaps Hynek's best
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. Is there
... any residue that is worthy of scientific attention?
Or, if there isn't, does not an obligation exist to say
so to the publicnot in words of open ridicule but
seriously, to keep faith with the trust the public places
in science and scientists?"
essay was very carefully worded: Hynek never states that
UFOs are an extraordinary phenomenon. But it is clear
that, whatever his own views, Hynek was increasingly distressed
by what he saw as the superficial manner most scientists
looked at UFOs. In 1953, Hynek was an associate member
Robertson Panel, which concluded that there
was nothing anomalous about UFOs, and that a public relations
campaign should be undertaken to debunk the subject and
reduce public interest. Hynek would later come to lament
Robertson Panel had helped make
UFOs a disreputable field of study.
the UFO reports continued 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."
a 1985 interview, when asked what caused his change of
opinion, Hynek responded, "Two things, really.
One was the completely negative and unyielding attitude
of the Air Force. They wouldn't give UFOs the chance of
existing, even if they were flying up and down the street
in broad daylight. Everything had to have an explanation.
I began to resent that, even though I basically felt the
same way, because I still thought they weren't going about
it in the right way. You can't assume that everything
is black no matter what. Secondly, the caliber of the
witnesses began to trouble me. Quite a few instances were
reported by military pilots, for example, and I knew them
to be fairly well-trained, so this is when I first began
to think that, well, maybe there was something to all
of his own private views, Hynek was, by and large, still
echoing the post-Ruppelt line of Project
Blue Book: There are no UFOs, and reports
can largely be explained as misidentifications.
remained with Project
Sign after it became Project
Grudge (though with far less involvement
than with Project
Grudge was replaced with Project
Blue Book in early 1952. Hynek continued
as scientific consultant to 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."
Hynek thought Ruppelt was a capable director who steered
Blue Book in the right direction, Ruppelt
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.
began occasionally disagreeing publicly with the conclusions
Book. By the early 1960safter about
a decade and a half of studyJerome
Clark writes that "Hynek's apparent
turnaround on the UFO question was an open secret."
Only after Blue
Book was formally dissolved did Hynek speak
more openly about his "turnaround."
his own admission, the soft-spoken Hynek was cautious
and conservative by nature. He speculated that his personality
was a factor in the Air Force keeping him on as a consultant
for over two decades.
other ufologists thought that Hynek was being disingenuous
or even duplicitous in his turnaround. Physicist
James E. McDonald, for example,
wrote to Hynek in 1970, castigating him for what McDonald
saw as his lapses, and suggesting that, when evaluated
by later generations, retired Marine
Donald E. Keyhoe would be regarded
as a more objective, honest, and scientific ufologist.
was during the late stages of Blue
Book in the 1960s that Hynek began speaking
openly about his disagreements and disappointments with
the Air Force. Among the cases where he openly dissented
with the Air Force were the highly publicized Portage
County UFO chase (where
several police officers chased a UFO for half an hour),
encounter of Lonnie Zamora. A police
Zamora reported an encounter with a metallic,
Zamora witnessed two humanoid occupants of the craft,
and in its apparently hasty departure,
the craft left physical evidence of its presence.
As of 2007, no entirely adequate explanation has been
presented that would contradict Zamora's accountin
fact, in a secret memo for the CIA, Blue
Book's director at the time, Major
Hector Quintanilla, expressed his own bafflement
at the case. Hynek described the case as a potential "Rosetta
Stone" that might unlock the UFO mystery.
late March 1966, in Michigan, two
days of mass UFO sightings were reported, and
received significant 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 repeatedly and strenuously
made the 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. But much
to his chagrin, Hynek's qualifications were largely overlooked,
and the words "swamp gas" were repeated ad infinitum
in relation to UFO reports. The explanation was subject
to national derision.
for UFO Studies (CUFOS)
was the founder and head of the Center
for UFO Studies (CUFOS).
Founded in 1973 (originally in Evanston, Illinois but
now based in Chicago), CUFOS
is an organization stressing scientific analysis of UFO
extensive archives include valuable files from civilian
research groups such as NICAP,
one of the most popular and credible UFO research groups
of the 1950s and 1960s.
Speech before the United Nations
November 1978, a statement on UFOs was presented by Dr.
Allen Hynek, in the name of himself, of Dr.
Jacques Vallée, and of Dr.
Claude Poher. This speech was prepared
and approved by the three authors, before the United Nations
General Assembly. The objective was to initiate a centralized
United Nations UFO authority.
1973, at the MUFON
annual symposium, held in Akron, Ohio, Hynek began to
express his doubts regarding the extraterrestrial (formerly
"interplanetary" or "intergalactic")
hypothesis. His main point led him to the title of his
Embarrassment of the Riches". He
was aware that the quantity of UFO sightings was much
higher than the Project
Blue Book statistics. Just this puzzled
him. "A few good sightings a year, over the world,
would bolster the extraterrestrial hypothesisbut
many thousands every year? From remote regions of space?
And to what purpose? To scare us by stopping cars, and
disturbing animals, and puzzling us with their seemingly
1975, in a paper presented to the
Joint Symposium of the American
Institute of Aeronautics & Astronautics
in Los Angeles, he wrote, "If you object, I ask
you to explain quantitatively, not qualitatively
the reported phenomena of materialization and dematerialization,
of shape changes, of the noiseless hovering in the Earth's
gravitational field, accelerations that for an
appreciable mass require energy sources far beyond
present capabilities even theoretical capabilities,
the well-known and often reported E-M (electro-magnetic
interference) effect, the psychic effects
on percipients, including purported telepathic communications".
1977, at the First International
UFO Congress in Chicago, Hynek presented his
thoughts in his speech "What I really believe
about UFOs". "I do believe",
he said, "that the UFO phenomenon as a whole is
real, but I do not mean necessarily that it's just one
thing. We must ask whether the diversity of observed UFOs
. . . all spring from the same basic source, as do weather
phenomena, which all originate in the atmosphere",
or whether they differ "as a rain shower differs
from a meteor, which in turn differs from a cosmic-ray
shower". We must not ask, Hynek said, what hypothesis
can explain the most facts, but we must ask, which hypothesis
can explain the most puzzling facts.
is sufficient evidence to defend both the ETI
and the EDI hypothesis",
Hynek continued. As evidence for the ETI
he mentioned, as examples, the radar cases as good evidence
of something solid, and the physical-trace cases. Then
he turned to defending the EDI
hypothesis. Besides the aspect of materialization and
dematerialization, he cited the "poltergeist"
phenomenon experienced by some people after a close encounter;
the photographs of UFOs, sometimes on only one frame,
not seen by the witnesses; the changing form right before
the witnesses' eyes; the puzzling question of telepathic
communication; or that in close
encounters of the third kind, the creatures
seem to be at home in earth's gravity and atmosphere;
the sudden stillness in the presence of the craft; levitation
of cars or persons; the development by some of psychic
abilities after an encounter. "Do we have two
aspects of one phenomenon or two different sets of phenomena?"
he introduced a third hypothesis. "I hold it entirely
possible", he said, "that a technology
exists, which encompasses both the physical and the psychic,
the material and the mental. There are stars that are
millions of years older than the sun. There may be a civilization
that is millions of years more advanced than man's. We
have gone from Kitty Hawk to the moon in some seventy
years, but it's possible that a million-year-old civilization
may know something that we don't ... I hypothesize an
'M&M' technology encompassing the mental and material
realms. The psychic realms, so mysterious to us today,
may be an ordinary part of an advanced technology".
Hynek and Vallee's 1975 book The
Edge of Reality, Hynek publishes a stereoscopic
photograph of a UFO he took during a flight. According
to the book, the object stayed in sight long enough for
Hynek to unpack his camera from his luggage and take two
exposures. UFO researcher Robert Sheaffer writes in his
book Psychic Vibrations
that Hynek seemed to forget that he had photographed and
published these two photographs as he told a reporter
for the Toronto
Globe and Mail that he had never seen
a UFO. The article quotes Hynek saying that in all the
years he has been looking upward "He has never
seen 'what I would so dearly love to see. Oh, the subject
has been so ridiculed that I would never report a UFO
even if I did see one - not without a witness'".
developed in his first book 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,
Encounters of the Third Kind, and
made a brief, non-speaking appearance in the film (after
the aliens disembark from the 'mother ship' at the end
of the film, he can be seen, bearded and with pipe in
mouth, stepping forward to view the spectacle).
April 27, 1986, Hynek died of a malignant brain tumor
at Memorial Hospital in Scottsdale, Arizona. He was 75
years old and was survived by his wife Mimi.