It starts pretty innocently.
The band opens up a book. "We want this," pointing at a page from the 1979 Cambridge Encyclopedia of Astronomy.
The album cover designer, Peter Saville, says "Sure thing." He goes off and inverts the colors — from black-on-white to white-on-black. And now we now have the cover for Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures.
But that's just the beginning of the story. The image turns out to be a computer-generated signal from the first pulsar ever discovered (that's PSR B1919+21, for you pulsar hobbyists out there). It is credited to an astrophysicist at Princeton, Jerry Ostriker. People have inquired about its copyright, but apparently none of the people involved — the designer, the physicist, the band — wants to claim its copyright outright.
Maybe because it was made by a computer analyzing signals from outer-space!
It's lack of fixed ownership has probably also helped it become one of the most iconic images in existence, used in everything from fashion to condom packages, and of course amazing tattoos and endless t-shirts.
This video is a promotion for the awesome-looking conference, Visualized, which starts in a couple weeks in NYC.