16 July 2019 - J. ALAN HYNEK and 'UFOLOGY'


G'day folks,

UFO's have always enchanted me. American astronomer J. Allen Hynek is best known for investigations of unidentified flying objects and efforts to promote "ufology" as a legitimate scientific pursuit.

Who Was J. Allen Hynek?

J. Allen Hynek (May 1, 1910 - April 27, 1986) studied astronomy at the University of Chicago before joining the faculty at Ohio State University. In the late 1940s, he analyzed reports of unidentified aircraft sightings as a consultant to the U.S. Air Force's "Project Sign." The following decade, he began conducting more thorough investigations under the umbrella of the renamed "Project Blue Book," with his discoveries fueling a quest to turn the study of UFOs into a legitimate scientific practice. Hynek later founded the Center for UFO Studies and published multiple books on the subject. One of them introduced the "Close Encounter" classification of sightings, inspiring the Steven Spielberg film Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Project Sign and Project Blue Book


In 1948 astronomer J. Allen Hynek, then director of Ohio State University’s McMillin Observatory, agreed to help the U.S. Air Force investigate reports of unexplained aircraft sightings, including one that described the lightning-fast "flying saucers" above the Cascade Mountains in Washington.

As the astronomical consultant on "Project Sign," Hynek combed through the reports and sorted them into categories: There were those which were simply astronomical observations, like the appearance of a meteor, those explained by meteorology, like an unusually shaped cloud, and those which captured accounts of man-made objects, like balloons. That left about 20 percent with no clear explanation, though Hynek felt that answers would eventually surface and returned to Ohio State.

By 1952, with reports continuing to trickle in, the Air Force had rekindled the operation as "Project Blue Book." Hynek was also back in the fold and now granted the license to investigate the alleged sightings in the field. While he had harbored plenty of skepticism the first time around, he found his assumptions challenged by the rational recollections of witnesses, and began thinking about the legitimate scientific study of these "Unidentified Flying Objects" or "UFOs."

By the 1960s, Hynek had moved on as the chair of the Department of Astronomy at Northwestern University and was at odds with the stifling oversight of the Air Force. 

With the arrival of new intriguing cases, like a reported sighting of alien beings by New Mexico police officer Lonnie Zamora in 1964, Hynek began conferring with other curious Northwestern faculty members in what he called his "invisible college."

In March 1966, Hynek was dispatched to investigate reports of unusual lights in separate areas of Michigan over successive nights. Rushed to conduct his findings amid a horde of reporters, the scientist soon announced that the sightings were possibly the result of "swamp gas."

The term became a national joke, but Michigan Congressman and House Minority Leader Gerald Ford wasn't laughing and demanded the Armed Services Committee pick up what he felt was a shoddy investigation. Called to testify, Hynek used the occasion to argue for an extensive, transparent study of UFOs, marking his first public break from the Air Force.

With the formation later that year of the University of Colorado's "Condon Committee," named for director and physicist Edward Condon, Hynek was thrilled that UFO research had finally risen to a level of national importance. However, he was disappointed when the committee concluded two years of study with the report that there was no need to expend further resources on the subject. In 1969, Project Blue Book was formally shuttered for good.

No longer hamstrung by the Air Force, Hynek in 1973 formed the Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS) to further legitimize the field of "ufology." CUFOS enjoyed some successes in its early years, leading investigations of reported sightings while fostering working relationships with law-enforcement agencies.

Hynek left Northwestern in 1978 to devote his full attention to CUFOS. By the early 1980s, fundraising efforts were flailing and Hynek was forced to run the operation out of his home in Evanston, Illinois. He was lured to Scottsdale, Arizona, by a potential benefactor in 1984, though the promise of a revived operation failed to materialize.

CUFOS remains in existence, run by a devoted board of disciples who retain access to Hynek's files and continue to aid investigations of UFOs and other unexplained phenomena.

 Clancy's comment: Fascinating stuff.

I'm ...

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