Jeri Klein

Ever since our species became self-aware and developed the ability for cognitive thought, we’ve looked to the heavens with wonder. In the vastness of space, amongst all the stars, could we really be alone? Are we the only intelligent beings in the universe? These questions resonate with all of us because they dive right into the core of what makes us human. 

But answering these time-honored queries hasn’t been easy. Not too long ago, the mere mention of alien life —life not of this world — would have landed you in jail, possibly executed under the charge of heresy. 

After stoning and hanging people who held what society deemed to be outlandish beliefs fell out of fashion, ridicule was the name of the game — public shaming at its finest. That, along with the threat of being locked away in an insane asylum (many of which were only closed about 30+ years ago) kept these topics, these musings of other worldly beings on the fringes of society. 

Along the way though, there have been a few scientific studies that helped bring credence to the idea that we’re not alone— most notably the works of Dr. J. Allen Hynek. 

Dr. Hynek was the scientific consultant for Project Blue Book (the military sanctioned study of UFOs from March 1952 to December 1969). This study was commissioned after the number of alien sightings hit critical mass and the government could no longer just sweep it under the rug. They tasked him with creating a scale, a way to measure these supposed encounters, so that they could be easily catalogued. 

The original Hynek Scale consisted of six main categories: 

  • Nocturnal Lights = Lights in the sky of unknown origin. 
  • Daytime Discs = UFOs (known nowadays as Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon or UAP) seen in the daytime, and typically resembling an oval or disc. 
  • Radar/Visual = UFO/UAP sightings backed up by radar confirmation. 
  • Close Encounters of the First Kind = A visual sighting of an UFO/UAP less than 500 feet away. There must be enough visual information present to easily rule out that it’s not a bird, or a plane, or Superman. 
  • Close Encounters of the Second Kind = The physical effects resulting from a UFO/UAP. This includes electronics going haywire, feeling ill, and imprints/impressions in the ground from said spacecraft. 
  • Close Encounters of the Third Kind = Experiences with actual non-terrestrial beings, either in or near the UFO/UAP. 

Four more categories were added later on (not by Hynek): 

  • Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind = Alien abduction. No explanation needed here. 
  • Close Encounters of the Fifth Kind = Direct communication between humans and extraterrestrial beings. 
  • Close Encounters of the Sixth Kind = An alien attack on humans (cue Independence Day theme song). 
  • Close Encounters of the Seventh Kind = An alien/human hybridization program. For the uninitiated, this is a scientific way of saying that alien and human DNA is somehow being manipulated to create a hybrid species.

This scale is the focus of the two-hour Alien Encounters Declassified special on discovery+ and features the latest news, declassified documents, and encounters, ranging from Close Encounters of the First Kind all the way up to Close Encounters of the Seventh Kind. 

Alien Encounters Declassified begins streaming Monday, September 6 on discovery+ and premieres the same day at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Travel Channel.