Josef Allen Hynek (1910 – 1986) was an astronomer and ufologist who conducted extensive research on unexplained aerial phenomena, both independently and in conjunction with the United States Air Force. Hynek was born in Chicago and graduated from the University of Chicago, receiving a Ph.D in astrophysics from Yerkes Observatory. Thereafter, he joined Ohio State University in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, later working at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and at Northwestern University.
Hynek originally was a UFO skeptic, dismissing UFO sightings as ridiculous, and assisting the Air Force in its efforts to debunk UFO reports. Specifically, for the Air Force’s Project Sign and Project Blue Book, Hynek analyzed reports of UFO sightings and provided logical, earthly explanations. In 1966, he famously dismissed a Michigan UFO sighting as “swamp gas.” However, when Hynek began investigating actual incidents in the field and interviewing witnesses he was stuck by their credibility. “The witnesses I interviewed could have been lying, could have been insane or could have been hallucinating collectively—but I do not think so,” he wrote in the 1977 publication, The Hynek UFO Report. He cited the witnesses’ position in their community, their lack of motivation to conduct a hoax, their confusion over their experiences and their hesitance to explain what happened in fear of embarrassment.
Hynek completely changed his opinion about the validity of UFOs and, in the 1977 International UFO Congress, said: “I do believe that the UFO phenomenon as a whole is real, but I do not mean necessarily that it’s just one thing.” Hynek thought that there may be multiple phenomena at work and that the interstellar travel hypothesis did not account for the reported sightings. He supported the extradimensional hypothesis as a possible explanation for the frequency and unusual behavior of reported extraterrestrial visitation. Hynek also proposed a hypothesis that alien technology may encompass both the material and mental worlds, suggesting that manipulating the psychic realm could be as ordinary to an advanced civilization as the use of basic earthly technology is to us.
In The UFO Experience, published in 1972, Hynek established the Close Encounter scale to catalogue different types of UFO sightings. Close Encounters of the First Kind include close, detailed visual sightings of an unidentified flying object. Close Encounters of the Second Kind involve an individual experience with some kind of effect from the encounter, whether that is a disturbance of technology, or some physical or mental effect. Close Encounters of the Third Kind are those in which humans interact with an animated extraterrestrial, including a physical being, robots or occupants of the UFO. (Steven Spielberg licensed the use of this phrase for his movie, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and included Hynek in a brief cameo in the film.)
Hynek’s scale was extended by others to include Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind, in which a human abducted by a UFO. (Jacques Vallee suggested Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind should include incidents in which a human’s sense of reality is transformed.) Additional Close Encounter categories have been imagined.
Hynek worked with Dr. Jacques Vallee to publish, in 1975, The Edge of Reality, and he authored Night Siege and What You Need To Know About UFOs. Hynek was been featured in numerous documentaries and innumerable media reports on the subject of UFOs. He died of a brain tumor.