Dr. Josef Allen Hynek was an American astronomer, professor, and UFO investigator officially appointed by the U.S. Air Force as a scientific consultant for three high-profile UFO investigations. Those investigations include Project Sign, Project Grudge, and Operation Blue Book, and range from 1947 to 1969, a span of 22 years.
J. Allen Hynek also testified at the 1968 Congressional Hearing on UFOs, covered in a previous post, and numerous other interviews and investigations into the phenomenon. He was well-respected in the field of ufology and was considered a go-to guy for official UFO studies.
His career path and evolving viewpoint on the UFO issue are of importance to any student of the field, because he was involved for so long at such a high level. In his academic career, Hynek was a professor of Astronomy at Ohio State University, and later the chairman of the Astronomy Department at Northwestern University. He was born in 1910 and passed away in 1986 at the age of 75.
Throughout his career, Hynek went from originally being highly skeptical of UFO reports in the early stages of his investigations, to convinced that the number of well-documented cases represented something real and worthy of further investigation.
He noted many similarities of the reported sightings from around the world and the persistence of many reports, leading him to reverse his original opinion on the matter. He later admitted that at first he thought that UFO reports were just a fad, and considered himself a debunker of every UFO report that came in. Hynek noted the number of credible individuals with scientific, military, and police backgrounds that had reported encounters in helping to shift his opinion.
After his official tenure with Project Bluebook, J. Allen Hynek was still so intrigued with the subject that he went on to found his own private research group, the Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS). While the mission of Project Bluebook was to debunk UFO reports, CUFOS set forth to expose the reality that some UFOs are caused by real, physical craft that perform beyond the known capabilities of any human technology.
However, even later in life he still had his doubts about the extraterrestrial hypothesis, noting his puzzlement at the sheer number of sightings at a 1973 MUFON meeting:
“A few good sightings a year, over the world, would bolster the extraterrestrial hypothesis—but 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 pointless antics?”
After so many years of studying UFOs, Hynek was able to develop an adequate system to help categorize the reported sightings by type, and thus the Hynek Classification System was born. The Hynek Classification System was first spelled out in his 1972 book, The UFO Experience, linked below.
Suggested Reading: The UFO Experience: A Scientific Inquiry
The system separates UFO encounters into several different types based on the time of day, proximity to the object, degree of interaction, and type of evidence obtained. Two major groups of sightings are included in the Hynek Classification System: Distant Encounters and Close Encounters.
Distant Encounters include those sightings that are from a distance, listed as further than roughly 200 yards away. Distant encounters included three subcategories:
- Nocturnal Lights – Unexplainable lights observed in the night sky from a distance.
- Daylight Disk – A daytime sighting of an unexplained disc, oval, or cylinder, often metallic.
- Radar-Visual – UFO sightings observed by radar, occasionally coinciding with visual sightings.
Close Encounters are direct encounters that occur at a close distance, defined as within roughly 200 yards in proximity.
- Close Encounters of the First Kind (CE-I) – A visual sighting of an unidentified object at a close enough range to observe details about the object. The UFO does not interact with the person in these cases.
- Close Encounters of the Second Kind (CE-II) –A visual sighting that includes interaction between the UFO and the nearby environment or the observer. Reported effects may vary from interference with vehicle electronics, to burns or marks on the ground, to effects on plants, animals or humans.
- Close Encounters of the Third Kind (CE-III) – A witness reports directly observing beings associated with the UFO, usually with no direct contact or communication.
J. Allen Hynek also developed other ratings systems for evaluating reported UFO sightings and close encounters, including probability and strangeness ratings that could be used to further group witness reports. Not all ufologists agree with this classification, as they may come across as requiring subjective judgement, and several variations on ratings have been put forth.
Since the Hynek Classification System was initially developed, a further four close encounter categories have been added. CE-IV through CE-V were added later by various other UFO researchers, including Jacques Vallee and Steven Greer of the Disclosure Project.
Jacques Vallee, who was also later involved in the 1997 Sturrock Panel on UFOs, proposed further refinements to the classification system presented by Hynek. We will save the discussion of the Vallee Classification System for a future post.
Hynek went on to write a foreword for Jacques Vallee’s 1976 book Challenges to Science – UFO Enigma, in which he stated his concern for the scientific community’s attitude toward UFO reports:
“The fact of the matter is that many of my colleagues who have undraped their dignity long enough to take a hard look at the reports have joined the growing ranks of the puzzled scientists: they privately indicate serious interest in the phenomenon but publicly they choose, like the subject itself, to remain unidentified; they are unwilling to expose themselves to the raillery and banter that go with it.“
The four proposed additions to the Hynek Classification System include:
- Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind (CE-IV) – Involves a witness abduction, often with reported experimentation by strange beings.
- Close Encounters of the Fifth Kind (CE-V) – Involves direct communication between observers and the occupants of a UFO. This is a rarely reported occurrence.
- Close Encounters of the Sixth Kind (CE-VI) – Involves contact between aliens and humans that result in permanent injury, and in rare instances, death.
- Close Encounters of the Seventh Kind (CE-VII) – The creation of a human/extraterrestrial hybrid, either by sexual reproduction or by artificial methods
CE-VII encounters fall in line with some of the recent Ancient Aliens theory proposed by several researchers, including Erich von Däniken. However, this category does not strictly fall in line with Hynek’s own views, in that he never concluded UFOs were of extraterrestrial origin. Interestingly, though, he did speculate on the idea of alien visitation with UFOs.
Cementing Hynek in UFO folklore, the Steven Spielberg Movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind serves as a reference to the Hynek Classification System, and goes to show the familiarity that Spielberg had with the subject when making the film. It is curious that this movie offers the extraterrestrial hypothesis as an explanation for UFOs.
In fact, Hynek served directly as a consultant for the film, meeting with Spielberg to help bring a credibility factor to the production. He was even featured in a scene at the climax of the movie playing one of the scientists in the scene where the main character experiences his own close encounter of the third kind.
In conclusion, the Hynek Classification System, and subsequent enhancements, creates a platform that allows more rigorous scientific study of UFO phenomena. Hynek’s works cement his place in the foundation of modern ufology.