The parachute that helped NASA’s Perseverance rover land on Mars last week unfurled to reveal a seemingly random pattern of colors in video clips of the rover’s landing. But there was more to the story: NASA officials later said it contained a hidden message written in binary computer code.
Internet sleuths cracked the message within hours. The red and white pattern spelled out “Dare Mighty Things” in concentric rings. The saying is the Perseverance team’s motto, and it is also emblazoned on the walls of Mission Control at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the mission team’s Southern California headquarters.
The parachute’s outer ring appears to translate to coordinates for JPL: 34°11’58” N 118°10’31” W.
Allen Chen, the entry, descent, and landing lead for Perseverance, dared the public to figure the message out during a press conference on Monday. “In addition to enabling incredible science, we hope our efforts in our engineering can inspire others,” he said.
“Sometimes we leave messages in our work for others to find for that purpose, so we invite you all to give it shot and show your work.”
Adam Steltzner, Perseverance’s chief engineer, confirmed the message late Monday night on Twitter.
It looks like the internet has cracked the code in something like 6 hours! Oh internet is there anything you can’t do? For those who just want to know: #Mars2020 #CountdownToMars pic.twitter.com/yTJCEnbuLY— Adam Steltzner (@steltzner) February 23, 2021
The “Dare Mighty Things” message wasn’t the only quirk Perseverance brought to Mars. Zooming in on one of the several thousand images NASA released from the rover this week shows a tiny family portrait of past Mars rovers, Perseverance, and the Ingenuity helicopter, which accompanied Perseverance to Mars.
NASA has included hidden messages on its rovers in the past. The Curiosity rover, which landed on the Red Planet in 2012, had tiny holes dotted in its hollow aluminum wheels to allow Mars pebbles caught inside to escape.
Those holes read “JPL” in Morse code. So when Curiosity roved the surface, “JPL” was stamped in Morse code on the Martian soil (though it was erased shortly after by the Martian wind).
Chen told The Verge that Perseverance engineers might have put more hidden messages on the rover beyond the “Dare Mighty Things” code in its parachute.
“People can’t resist putting a little personal touch in their work,” Chen said. “But the vast majority of these will never be known — even by me.”