Thursday, August 6, 2009

UFO FYI: J. Allen Hynek and the Hynek Classification System

The Hynek UFO Classification System

J. Allen Hynek classified UFO reports into six categories: nocturnal lights, daylight discs, radar/visual cases, close encounters of the first kind, close encounters of the second kind, and close encounters of the third kind.

photo of nocturnal lights
Mary Evans Picture Library
The "Lubbock lights"-a classic example of Hynek's UFO category of nocturnal lights. Other witnesses saw the same V-shaped formation of lights as photographer Carl Hart, Jr., who took this and four additional pictures.

Nocturnal lights. Near midnight on the evening of August 30, 1951, during a spate of sightings of boomerang-shaped lights in Lubbock, Texas, college student Carl Hart, Jr., glimpsed a formation of 18 to 20 white lights through his bedroom window. Forming a perfect V configuration in two rows, they were passing silently over his parents' house from the north. Grabbing a 35mm camera, Hart raced outside, hoping they would return. A minute later the lights reappeared, and though they were visible for less than five seconds, he was able to snap two pictures. When the lights returned once more, Hart got three more pictures.

The local newspaper as well as the Air Force subjected Hart's photographs of the "Lubbock lights" -- as they are known in UFO lore -- to intensive investigation. No evidence of a hoax emerged then or later, and no conventional explanation could be found.

photo of daylight disc
Fortean Picture Library
Hannah McRoberts did not notice this disc-shaped structure as she photographed a mountain on Vancouver Island in October 1981. After an investigation scientist and photoanalyst Richard F. Haines concluded this is an authentic photograph.

Daylight discs. From mid-morning to mid-afternoon on July 8, 1947, silvery disc-shaped objects bedeviled Muroc Air Base (later renamed Edwards AFB). Two discs first showed up at 9:30 A.M; they moved at 300 miles per hour at 8,000 feet altitude on a level flight path against the wind. A third disc, flying in tight circles, then appeared and headed toward the Mojave Desert with the first two. Some 40 minutes later a test pilot warming up an XP-84 aircraft saw another object, again flying into the wind. At noon, as a pilot was conducting a seat-ejection test at 20,000 feet, observers saw a UFO underneath it. The object was descending rapidly; it then headed north. Witnesses told Air Force investigators that "it presented a distinct oval-shaped outline, with two projections on the upper surface which might have been thick fins or knobs. They crossed each other at intervals, suggesting either rotation or oscillation of a slow type. . . . The color was silver, resembling an aluminum-painted fabric." At 4 P.M. an F-51 pilot encountered a "flat object of a light-reflecting nature" without wings or fins.

These sightings, Hynek wrote, caused the Air Force to "take a deep interest in UFOs."

Radar/visual. While driving east of Corning, California, near midnight on August 13, 1960, state police officers Charles Carson and Stanley Scott saw a lighted object drop out of the sky. Fearing the imminent crash of an airliner, they screeched to a halt and jumped out of their car. The object continued to fall until it reached about 100 feet altitude, at which point it abruptly reversed direction and ascended 400 feet, then stopped. "At this time," Carson wrote in his official report, "it was clearly visible to both of us. It was surrounded by a glow making the round or oblong object visible. At each end, or each side of the object, there were definite red lights. At times about five white lights were visible between the red lights. As we watched, the object moved again and performed aerial feats that were actually unbelievable."

The two officers radioed the Tehama County Sheriff's Office and asked it to contact the nearest Air Force base (at Red Bluff). Radar there confirmed the object's presence.

The UFO remained in view for more than two hours. During that time two deputy sheriffs and the county jailer saw it from their respective locations. According to Carson:

On two occasions the object came directly towards the patrol vehicle; each time it approached, the object turned, swept the area with a huge red light. Officer Scott turned the red light on the patrol vehicle towards the object, and it immediately went away from us. We observed the object use the red beam approximately six or seven times, sweeping the sky and ground areas. The object began moving slowly in an easterly direction and we followed. We proceeded to the Vina Plains Fire Station where it was approached by a similar object from the south. It moved near the first object and both stopped, remaining in that position for some time, occasionally emitting the red beam. Finally, both objects disappeared below the eastern horizon.

Carson noted, "Each time the object neared us, we experienced radio interference."

Close Encounters

Close encounters of the first kind. J. Allen Hynek defines this as "a close-at-hand experience without tangible physical effects." A couple was driving north on Highway 45 north of Bristol, Wisconsin, at 11 P.M. on October 14, 1986. They saw flashing red and white lights that they took to mean that a car accident had occurred on the road just ahead of them. Approaching cautiously, they were stunned to find the real cause: an enormous triangular-shaped object hovering just above the concrete. The lights ran along the object's outer edge. "It was the size of a two-story house and spanned the width of the road," the husband told Don Schmitt of the Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS), the organization Hynek founded in 1973.

photo of police officers examining a burn
Fortean Picture Library
On April 21, 1967, at South Hill, Virginia, a warehouse manager driving home from work saw an object like a large water tank resting on the road. When he put his lights on it, the object abruptly ascended with a blast of white flame. The road burned for a few seconds, leaving an imprint for police to examine.

Close encounters of the second kind. In this encounter "a measurable physical effect on either animate or inanimate matter is manifested." Late on the afternoon of January 8, 1981, at Trans-en-Provence, France, a whistling sound disturbed Renato Nicolai as he worked in his garden. When he saw a lead-colored "ship" moving toward him from two pine trees at the edge of his property, he fled to a small cabin on a nearby hill. From there Nicolai saw the object, shaped like "two saucers upside down, one against the other," descend to the ground. Shortly thereafter it rose up and shot off toward the northeast. On its bottom Nicolai observed "two kinds of round pieces which could have been landing gear or feet."

Not long afterward the gendarmerie appeared on the scene and wrote in their official report: "We observed the presence of two concentric circles, one 2.2 meters in diameter and the other 2.4 meters in diameter. The two circles form a sort of corona 10 centimeters thick on this corona, one within the other. There are two parts clearly visible, and they also show black striations." Groupe d'Étude des Phénomènes Aerospatiaux Non-Identifiés (GEPAN), France's official UFO-investigative agency, took soil and plant samples to the nation's leading botanical laboratory.

After a two-year study GEPAN determined that a "very significant event . . . happened on this spot." GEPAN head Jean-Jacques Velasco wrote, "The effects on plants in the area can be compared to that produced on the leaves of other plant species after exposing the seeds to gamma radiation." In its 66-page technical monograph on the case, GEPAN cautiously acknowledged that the incident amounted to proof that a UFO had landed: "For the first time we have found a combination of factors which conduce us to accept that something similar to what the eyewitness has described actually did take place."

Close encounters of the third kind. In this occurrence "the presence of animated creatures is reported" inside or in the vicinity of UFOs. As he drove to work at 5:50 A.M. on August 25, 1952, William Squyres, a musician at a Pittsburg, Kansas, radio station, encountered a large disc hovering 10 feet above the ground about 250 yards away. He quickly brought his car to a stop, jumped out, and began walking toward the UFO. It looked, he would tell Project Blue Book investigators, like two bowls placed end on end, 75 feet long and 40 feet wide, with a 15-foot-high midsection. Along the side was a row of windows.

Through these windows Squyres detected movement of some sort, but he could not detect its cause. In one window he could see the head and shoulders of a motionless humanlike figure who seemed to be leaning forward and watching him. The UFO departed before Squyres could get any closer to it. As-it ascended, according to the Project Blue Book report on the incident, "it made a sound like a large covey of quail starting to fly at the same time."

This incident is among the few UFO reports Project Blue Book acknowledged it could not explain.

J. Allen Hynek

Dr. Josef Allen Hynek (May 1, 1910 - April 27, 1986) was a United States astronomer, professor, and ufologist.

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: Project Sign (1947-1949), Project Grudge (1949-1952), and Project Blue Book (1952 to 1969); for decades afterwards, he conducted his own independent UFO research, and is widely considered the father of the concept of scientific analysis of both reports and, especially, trace evidence purportedly left by UFOs.

Hynek 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. During 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 proximity fuze. After the war, Hynek returned to the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Ohio State, rising to full professor in 1950.

In 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, Sputnik. After 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.

In response to many "flying saucer" sightings (later unidentified flying objects), the United States Air Force established Project 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 object.

For 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, 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. After examining hundreds of UFO reports over the decades (including some made by credible witnesses, including astronomers, pilots, police officers, and military personnel), Hynek's opinions about UFOs began a slow and gradual shift. He concluded that some reports represented genuine observations.

Another 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. 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 known statement:

"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?"

The 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 of the 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 that the Robertson Panel had helped make UFOs a disreputable field of study.

When 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."

In 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 this." Hynek remained with Project Sign after it became Project Grudge (though with far less involvement than with Project Sign). 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."

Though Hynek thought Ruppelt was a capable director who steered Project Blue Book in the right direction, Ruppelt headed Blue 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.

Hynek began occasionally disagreeing publicly with the conclusions of Blue Book. By the early 1960s—after about a decade and a half of study—Clark writes that "Hynek's apparent turnaround on the UFO question was an open secret."

It 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), and the encounter of Lonnie Zamora. A police officer, Zamora reported an encounter with a metallic, egg-shaped aircraft near Socorro, New Mexico. 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 account—in fact, in a secret memo for the CIA, Blue Book's director at the time, Major Quintanilla, expressed his own bafflement at the case.

In 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.

Late in his life, Hynek was critical of the popular extraterrestrial hypothesis, and began expressing his doubts to theories that UFOs were physical spacecraft from other planets. As Hynek himself said in October 1976: "I have come to support less and less the idea that UFOs are 'nuts and bolts' spacecrafts from other worlds. There are just too many things going against this theory. To me, it seems ridiculous that super intelligences would travel great distances to do relatively stupid things like stop cars, collect soil samples, and frighten people. I think we must begin to re-examine the evidence. We must begin to look closer to home."

At the First International UFO Congress in 1977, he referred to the subject humorously, presenting his "swamp-gas business" as evidence that he had never been a "believer" in UFOs, as some people assumed, and he stressed that he, as a scientist, never was or would be a "believer" in the sense of accepting something on blind faith.

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