Science

The Hynek Scale is a Six-Item System for Classifying UFO Sightings and Alien Contact

Ever see a mob of aliens pop out of a UFO but you just don't quite know how to describe it? Ugh, we know the feeling. For that, and probably at least one other good reason (right?), there is the Hynek Scale. Finally, a way to sort through all of your close calls with E.T.

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We Really Want To Believe

All jokes aside, the overwhelming number of UFO sightings are nothing to brush off without some investigation into what's really going on. Enter J. Allen Hynek, astrophysicist, scientific adviser to UFO studies by the U.S. Air Force from 1948 to 1969, and founder of the Center for U.F.O. Studies in 1973.

"I started almost as a complete skeptic because I thought the whole thing was a question of post-war nerves," Hynek admitted about UFOs in a 1977 interview, "but it was a persistence of the phenomenon that refused to dry up and blow away that finally led me to the belief that we had a real phenomenon to deal with."

Phew, Close One

It was in his 1972 book "The UFO Experience: A Scientific Inquiry" that Hynek penned what would become his legacy: his close encounters scale, also known as the Hynek Scale. This six-item list is a system for categorizing reports of UFO sightings and alien encounters. You've heard of Steven Spielberg's 1977 sci-fi flick "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," right? He got it straight from the 1972 text. Hynek even served as scientific advisor on the film, and makes a cameo (keep your eyes peeled for the Colonel Sanders-looking dude). Without further ado, here is the Hynek Scale:

  1. Nocturnal lights. These are wacky lights in the night sky that move unlike planes or planets, most often red, blue, orange, or white in color. This represents the largest group of UFO reports.
  2. Daylight discs. These are oval, metallic flying objects that are visible in the daytime. They've been said to disappear with astounding speed.
  3. Radar-visual cases. These are significant blips on radar screens that coincide with visual reports.
  4. Close Encounters of the First Kind (CE-I). This is when a UFO is within 200 yards, but it doesn't interact with the witness or environment.
  5. Close Encounters of the Second Kind (CE-II). This is when a UFO actually interacts with the environment, whether that be leaving physical evidence on the ground, on animals, or on humans.
  6. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (CE-III). Spielberg alert! This is when occupants of a UFO (humanoid or otherwise) are seen.

Want to learn more? Check out Hynek's cultural phenomenon of a book, "The UFO Experience: A Scientific Inquiry."

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FBI vault reveals UFO memo

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Key Facts In This Video

  1. The FBI's digital reading room, where any FBI report can be viewed online, is called the Vault. 00:00

  2. The FBI's most viewed file details the account of an Air Force officer recovering three flying saucers in New Mexico in 1950. 00:44

  3. There are hundreds of reports in the "unexplained" section of the FBI's Vault about UFO and alien sightings that are more popular than the most famous criminal case files. 02:03

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