Hynek, J. Allen

Allen J. Hynek (1910–ca. 1986) An astronomer first at the Ohio State University and then at Northwestern University, where he was chair of the astronomy department, J. Allen Hynek founded the J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS) in 1973 and served as its scientific director until his retirement in 1985. He was also the first person to use the phrase close encounters to refer to UFO sightings, and he created a classification system for these encounters.

In addition, Hynek is known for his participation during the 1950s and 1960s in the U.S. Air Force’s Project Blue Book, a government attempt to convince the American public that UFO sightings were due to mass hysteria, hallucinations, or the misidentification of ordinary phenomena such as meteors. Hynek was asked to work on Project Blue Book with the goal of finding an astronomical explanation for apparent UFOs, but his most controversial action involved an earthly phenomenon instead. In 1966 Hynek was sent to Michigan to investigate a rash of UFO sightings; eighty-six college students had seen a UFO hovering over a field, and shortly thereafter several individuals saw a large red object flying over a marsh. Hynek concluded that what the witnesses had seen was a large cloud of methane, or swamp gas, caused by rotting vegetation. This conclusion seemed so ridiculous to the public that it convinced many people the government was trying to cover up evidence that UFOs really were alien spacecraft. As a result, Congress ordered the Air Force to study the UFO phenomenon more seriously.

Meanwhile, Hynek had decided that there really might be an extraterrestrial explanation for UFOs, given the credibility of many of the witnesses in reports he had studied. After Project Blue Book was shut down in 1969, he started laying the foundation for CUFOS, which supports and conducts investigations into claims related to UFOs. He also wrote a book, The UFO Experience: A Scientific Study (1972), advocating a serious approach to the investigation of UFO reports.


  • Center for UFO Studies
  • Close Encounters
  • Project Blue Book


The Greenhaven Encyclopedia of Paranormal Phenomena – written by Patricia D. Netzley © 2006 Gale, a part of Cengage Learning