The cover of Joy Division’s 1979 debut album Unknown Pleasures is probably more well known than the album or band themselves. Famed cover art designer Peter Saville is credited with designing the cover, but as the myth goes, he based it on a encyclopedia page on pulsars and radio waves that a band member showed to him.
Many fans have tried and failed to track down the creator of the image, spotting it in several 1970s science textbooks, but the original source has remained unknown–until now, that is.
Amazingly, Scientific American writer Jen Christiansen found the man responsible for the image, which has gone uncredited even in other scientific texts.
Harold D. Craft, Jr., was a graduate student at Cornell University in the early 70s, working with cosmic data a the massive Arecibo Radio Observatory in Puerto Rico. He and his colleagues were experimenting with some of the first digital measurements of radio waves from pulsars (collapsed stars that flash like lighthouses), using radar equipment at the observatory. By chance, Craft ended up writing the computer program that would produce this iconic image. That’s right: Unknown Pleasures‘ cover was computer generated.
Craft said he had no idea that his image was being widely used on the cover of a famous record. “I went to the record store and, son of a gun, there it was. So I bought an album, and then there was a poster that [they] had of it, so I bought one of those too, just for no particular reason, except that it’s my image, and I ought to have a copy of it.”
You can read Christiansen’s account of her investigation, and listen to her interviews with Craft at Scientific American.