Dr. Josef Allen Hynek was an American astronomer and ufologist most famous for his research on UFOs (unidentified flying objects). He had served as scientific adviser to the UFO studies which were undertaken by the U.S. Air Force after which he became involved in his own independent study of the UFOs. Eventually he developed a system of describing UFO sightings into six categories based on factors like distance of sighting, appearances, and special features. This system, known as the Close Encounter classification system, established him as one of the foremost authorities on this subject. Hynek had developed an early interest in astronomy after his mother read to him a book on the subject when he was a little boy. He was also intrigued by the mysteries of the world and developed an interest in occult. In fact as a teenager he spent a massive amount of money in buying a book on occult while his friends preferred to buy motorcycles! The curious young man ventured into astronomy in an attempt to reveal the weaknesses of science. Initially a skeptic, he eventually acknowledged the fact that astronomers do sight UFOs and immersed himself in research to unlock the mystery of the UFOs.
Childhood & Early Life
He was born on May 1, 1910, to Czech parents, in Chicago. His father made cigars for a living while his mother taught at a local grammar school.
When Josef was young, he became ill and was confined to bed. During this time his mother used to read books to him, instilling in him a curiosity to learn more about the world. One of the books she read to him was a high school text book on astronomy which became his favorite.
As a teenager he developed an interest in occult and the “mystical”. So interested was he in occult that as a high school student he spent over $100 to purchase a book called ‘The Secret Teachings of All Ages’.
He decided to pursue a career in astronomy and received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Chicago in 1931. He completed his Ph.D. in astrophysics at Yerkes Observatory in 1935, submitting his thesis on “A Quantitative Study of Certain Phases of F-Type Spectra”.
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The Ohio State University appointed Hynek as an instructor in the department of physics and astronomy in 1936, where he specialized in the study of stellar evolution and identification of spectroscopic binaries.
He was promoted to assistant professor in 1939 and taught summer school at the Harvard College Observatory in 1941.
He took a leave from Ohio State University during World War II and served as a civilian scientist at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory from 1942 to 1946 where he worked on developing a proximity fuse for the navy.
In June 1947, a salesman had reported seeing shiny unidentified objects pass in front of Mount Rainer. Following this reporting, several others also came forward claiming to have witnessed similar sightings. The U.S. Air Force officials formed the Project Sign and recruited Hynek as the project’s astronomical consultant.
After the war he returned to Ohio State University and was promoted to a full professorship in 1950. During this time he also became assistant dean of the Graduate School.
He also served as the scientific adviser on the Project Blue Book, formed by the U.S. Air Force to study UFOs. The project started in 1952 and thousands of reports were collected, analyzed and filed. The study was ordered to be shut down in 1969.
He left the Ohio State University in 1956 and joined Professor Fred Whipple, the Harvard astronomer, at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory where he was assigned to direct the tracking of an American space satellite, a project for the International Geophysical Year.
When the Soviet Union announced the launch of Sputnik, the first successful artificial satellite in October 1957, Hynek along with Fred Whipple conducted press conferences to report on the satellite’s progress and to reassure the public of its safety.
He returned to teaching after completing his work on the satellite program and took the position of professor and chairman of astronomy department at Northwestern University in 1960.
In 1973, he founded the Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS), a privately funded UFO research group. After his retirement from the Northwestern in 1978 he focused more on his center which he was forced to move to his home in 1981 for want of funds.
He, along with Dr. Jacques Vallee and Dr. Claude Poher prepared a speech on UFOs which he presented before the United Nations General Assembly in November 1978 with the objective of initiating a centralized United Nations UFO authority.
Personal Life & Legacy
He got married for the first time in 1932. This marriage ended in a divorce after seven years.
In 1942 he tied the knot again with Miriam “Mimi” Curtis, a woman 14 years his junior. The couple was blessed with five children.
During his later years he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. The grueling treatment left him exhausted yet he held close to his heart a last wish—he wanted to see the Halley’s Comet which was due to appear in 1986. His friends ensured that his last wish was fulfilled and he died a contented man shortly afterwards; he died on 27 April 1986.
This great astronomer was born in a year of the Halley's Comet and died in the year of its next return.