The parachute that helped NASA’s Perseverance rover land on Mars last week unfolded to reveal a seemingly random color pattern 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 detectives decrypted the message in a matter of hours. The red and white pattern read “Dare Mighty Things” in concentric rings. The saying is the motto of the Perseverance team and is also stamped on the walls of Mission Control at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the mission team’s headquarters in Southern California.
The outer ring of the parachute appears to translate to JPL coordinates: 34 ° 11’58 ”N 118 ° 10’31” W.
Allen Chen, Perseverance’s entry, descent and landing leader, challenged the public to decipher the message during a press conference Monday. “In addition to enabling incredible science, we hope that 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 everyone to give it a try and show their work.”
Adam Steltzner, Perseverance’s chief engineer, confirmed the message Monday night on Twitter.
The “Dare Mighty Things” message wasn’t the only quirk that perseverance brought to Mars. Zooming in on one of several thousand images NASA released from the rover this week shows a small family portrait of previous 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 small holes in its hollow aluminum wheels to allow pebbles from Mars trapped inside to escape.
Those holes say “JPL” in Morse code. So when Curiosity roamed the surface, “JPL” was recorded in Morse code on Martian soil (although it was erased shortly after by the Martian wind).
Chen said The edge that Perseverance engineers could have put more hidden messages on the rover beyond the “Dare Mighty Things” code on its parachute.
“People can’t resist putting a personal touch on their work,” Chen said. “But the vast majority of these will never be known, not even me.”