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Josef Allen Hynek was an astronomer best known for his UAP research - most notably for his role as a scientific advisor to UAP investigations by the U.S. Air Force under projects Project Sign (1947–1949), Project Grudge (1949–1951), and Project Blue Book (1952–1969), and later as the founder of the Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS).


Hynek received a B.S. from the University of Chicago, and completed his Ph.D. in astrophysics at Yerkes Observatory. He joined the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Ohio State University in 1936 where he specialized in the study of stellar evolution and in the identification of spectroscopic binary stars.

Hynek was a civilian scientist at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, and he helped develop the United States Navy's radio proximity fuze during World War II. Hynek returned to the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Ohio State as a professor. In 1956, he left to join Professor and Harvard astronomer Fred Whipple at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, which had combined with the Harvard Observatory. Hynek had the assignment of directing the tracking of an American space satellite.

UAP Investigations

As UAP reports increased in the United States, the recently established U.S. Air Force created Project Sign in 1947 to look into the sightings. They hired Hynek, who at the time, was highly skeptical of reports on flying saucers. Hynek’s skepticism was rooted in his suspicions that the sightings and reports were made by unreliable witnesses, or by persons who had misidentified natural objects. His role was to serve as a debunker.

Project Sign reviewed 237 cases in the one year it was active. In Hynek’s final report, he noted that about 32 percent of incidents could be attributed to an astronomical phenomena, while another 35 percent had other plausible explanations like balloons. The final 33 percent, 13 percent didn’t offer enough evidence to yield an explanation, so that left 20 percent that provided investigators with some evidence, but not enough to come to a consensus.  

According to Hynek, Project Grudge “took as its premise that UFOs simply could not be.” It concluded that the phenomena posed no danger to the United States by dismissing the sightings as hoaxes, mental illness, or misinterpretations. Project Grudge was replaced with Project Blue Book in 1952. Hynek remained as scientific consultant.

Hynek’s view of the topic would change the more he researched. He made his change of perspective public in a 1953 report for the Journal of the Optical Society of America titled "Unusual Aerial Phenomena,” and challenged the scientific community to take notice. 

“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. 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 public—not in words of open ridicule but seriously, to keep faith with the trust the public places in science and scientists?”

In 1953, the Robertson Panel, a committee of scientists convened to analyze the UAP issue on the recommendation of the CIA, concluded that there was nothing anomalous about the subject of UAPs, and there should be a public effort to debunk the subject to deter public interest. Hynek served as an associate on this panel. Despite the Robertson Panel’s conclusions, for Hynek, the subject was becoming hard to ignore as more UAP reports started coming in from more credible witnesses, which included military officials, pilots, law enforcement and other official agencies. These reports piqued Hynek’s interest.

Project Blue Book

 "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,” according to Air Force Captain Edward J. Ruppelt, Blue Book's first director.

Hynek claimed that after Ruppelt's departure Project Blue Book was mostly a public relations exercise that shunned using the scientific method to conduct the real research that was necessary. 

“The witnesses I interviewed could have been lying, could have been insane or could have been hallucinating collectively—but I do not think so,” Hyney wrote in his book The Hynek UFO Report. “Their standing in the community, their lack of motive for perpetration of a hoax, their own puzzlement at the turn of events they believe they witnessed, and often their great reluctance to speak of the experience—all lend a subjective reality to their UFO experience.”

Hynek’s frustration with the direction of Blue Book and his disagreements with the Air Force was evident in many cases. Hynek clashed often with Air Force Major Hector Quintanilla, who headed the project from 1963 to 1969.

Cases of note that Hynek investigated, include the Portage County UAP chase, in which several police officers chased a UAP for an estimated 30 minutes; the encounter of police officer Lonnie Zamora who reported an seeing a silver egg-shaped UAP near Socorro, New Mexico; and the Dexter, Michigan incident that saw a 2-day UAP flap of mass public sightings.

Hynek concluded that a few of about 100 witnesses during the Michigan UAP mass sightings had mistaken the UAPs for swamp gas, which was an explanation that was met with immediate scrutiny from the American public. At the press conference where he made his announcement, Hynek stated that swamp gas was a plausible explanation for some of the sightings in Michigan. Michigan Congressman Gerald Ford called for congressional hearings on UAP due to the public’s dissatisfaction with the U.S. Air Force’s handling of the UAP investigation.

In a 1958 interview, Hynek expressed his frustration with dealing with the Air Force’s stance on the subject of UAPs.

"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 this."

The Air Force established a civilian committee of scientists to investigate UAPs that was chaired by a University of Colorado physicist Dr. Edward U. Condon. Hynek called the Condon Report, which concluded there was no scientific value to the investigation of UAP, “poorly organized” and “singularly slanted.” The following year, in 1969, Project Blue Book was shut down.

In his 1977 book “The Hynek Report,” he further explained why he found the witness testimonials compelling enough to investigate further. 

“The witnesses I interviewed could have been lying, could have been insane or could have been hallucinating collectively—but I do not think so. Their standing in the community, their lack of motive for perpetration of a hoax, their own puzzlement at the turn of events they believe they witnessed, and often their great reluctance to speak of the experience—all lend a subjective reality to their UFO experience.”

The idea of the stigma attached to sighting  was conveyed by collaborator/co-author  Jacques Vallée in their book “The Edge of Reality: A Progress Report on Unidentified Flying Objects “

 “Given the controversial nature of the subject, it’s understandable that both scientists and witnesses are reluctant to come forward. “Because their life is going to change. There are cases where their house is broken into. People throw stones at their kids. There are family crises—divorce and so on… You become the person who has seen something that other people have not seen. And there is a lot of suspicion attached to that.”

Close Encounters

In 1977, at the First International UFO Congress in Chicago, during Hynek’s speech he used the term “close encounters of the third kind,”which became part of a classification system to identify various UAP-related experiences. 

Close Encounters of the First Kind meant UAPs were witnessed at a close enough range to make out some details. In a Close Encounter of the Second Kind, the UAP sighting involved a physical effect like destroying a tree. In Close Encounters of the Third Kind, witnesses reported seeing occupants in or near a craft.

At this conference, he also questioned the paranormal coincidences he’s seen and researched to explain his mindset behind the various encounters.

 "Do we have two aspects of one phenomenon or two different sets of phenomena?” Hynek said in his speech. 

In his speech, Hynek also advocated that there could be a third option.

"I hold it entirely possible that a technology exists, which encompasses both the physical and the psychic, the material and the mental,” he said. 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 was the founder and first head of the Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS) in 1973. CUFOS advocated for scientific analysis of UAP cases.. 

Hynek served as a consultant to Steven Spielberg for the 1977 hit movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” which was named after Hynek's scale. He also made a cameo appearance in the film when at the end, after the aliens appear outside the "mothership", he can be seen stepping forward to view the UAP. The movie was one of the first of its kind in Hollywood to pull from real UAP-related events. 

In 1978, Hynek presented a statement on UAP before the United Nations General Assembly's Special Political Committee on behalf of himself, Vallée, and CNES engineer  Claude Poher. The U.N. meeting was considered a milestone for the idea of “international disclosure,” as it included letters from ambassadors, government officials, and astronauts like Gordon Cooper.

“Close Encounters Man: How One Man Made the World Believe in UFOs” was a book by Mark O’Connel that served as an unofficial biography for Hynek. Rolling Stone said, “the book reveals an academic committed to rigorous, methodical study, but whose deep intellectual curiosity also harbored a mystical side…”

The History channel recently produced a historical fiction re-telling of Hynek’s UAP investigations, titled “Project Blue Book,” which ran for two seasons. Aiden Gillen portrayed Hynek in the drama/ science fiction series that dramatized Hynek and the Air Force’s story.

Hynek died of a malignant brain tumor at Memorial Hospital in Scottsdale, Arizona on April 27, 1986.

Notable books authored by Hynek on the UAP topic

2.“The Edge of Reality: A progress report on the unidentified flying objects, with Jacques Vallée “
4.“Night Siege – The Hudson Valley UFO Sightings, with Philip Imbrogno and Bob Pratt”
5.“UFO Fact or Fiction – circa 1970”


2.Clark, Jerome (1998). The UFO Book: Encyclopedia of the Extraterrestrial. 
3."Chapter Three: The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects". NICAP
4.Schneidman; Daniels (1987). The UFO Phenomenon, Mysteries of the Unknown, Time-Life Books
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