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.
Web detectives broke the message in practically no time. The red and white example illuminated “Dare Mighty Things” in concentric rings. The maxim is the Perseverance group’s adage, and it is likewise embellished on the dividers of Mission Control at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the mission group’s Southern California central command.
"dare mighty things" ! Well done! @NASA @NASAPersevere pic.twitter.com/Di1hkFQApd
— Abela_Paf (@FrenchTech_paf) February 22, 2021
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 remembered concealed directives for its wanderers previously. The Curiosity wanderer, which arrived on the Red Planet in 2012, had small openings specked in its empty aluminum wheels to permit Mars rocks got inside to get away.
Those openings read “JPL” in Morse code. So when Curiosity wandered the surface, “JPL” was stepped in Morse code on the Martian soil (however it was eradicated not long after by the Martian breeze).
Chen revealed to The Verge that Perseverance architects may have put more shrouded messages on the wanderer past the “Dare Mighty Things” code in its parachute.
“Individuals can’t avoid placing a little close to home touch in their work,” Chen said. “In any case, by far most of these won’t ever be known — even by me.”