The Origins of One of My Favourite Album Covers Finally Revealed (Which Comes as a Surprise, Really)

For years, I accepted as gospel that the wavy patterns on the cover of Joy Division’s 1978 album, Unknown Pleasures were a graphical representation of one hundred pulses of pulsar CP1919 taken by a radio telescope pointed at the constellation Vulpecula. The image was supposedly found by chief Factory Records designer Peter Saville while flipping through a copy of The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Astronomy.

This appealed greatly to my nerdish love for astronomy.

Turns out, though, there’s more to the story.  There was much debate over who created that image in the first place.  And now we know: an astronomy named Harold D. Kraft, Jr, who, in 1970, authored a Ph.D these called “Radio Observations of the Pulse Profiles and Dispersion Measures of Twelve Pulsars.

Scientific American, the magazine that went on this rabbit hunt, got this quote from Craft:

It was a complete surprise. In fact, I didn’t know anything about it, and a colleague in the space sciences department, who is now a professor of astronomy at Cornell, Jim Cordes, saw me on the street – he’s been a long time friend – and he said, “oh, by the way, did you know that your image is on the cover of Joy Division?” And, I said no, I had no clue. So 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 I 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.

Read the whole interview (and hear Dr. Kraft speak) here.

And now you know where all those t-shirts came from.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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