pop culture pulsar


fifty years ago today, astronomers working at the Mullard Radio Astronomy Observatory in Cambridge discovered an unusual signal coming from deep space: a steady, rhythmic pulse unlike anything seen before. the radio signal, which repeated every 1.33 seconds, seemly oddly unnatural and was soon nicknamed LGM-1 for "Little Green Men" by its discoverers, Jocelyn Bell Burnell and Antony Hewish, who briefly considered but then ruled out the possibility it had originated from some far-off extraterrestrial civilisation


in fact, they had discovered the first pulsar – a breed of highly magnetised, rotating stars that emit narrow beams of energy, like a lighthouses. CP 1919, later designated PSR B1919+21, became even more famous in 1979 when designer Peter Saville used a graph of the famous signal to create one of the most iconic album covers of all time: the jagged black and white mountainscape of Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures. you can watch a short documentary about the album cover below, or read Scientific American's endearingly nerdy search for the exact scientific graph here. spoiler alert: it comes from Harold Craft's "Radio Observations of the Pulse Profiles and Dispersion Measures of Twelve Pulsars"