NASA officials revealed the parachute that helped the Perseverance rover land on the surface of Mars contained a hidden note in binary computer code. To casual and ordinary observers, there is nothing unique about the random pattern of colors on the parachute. Today, officials at the space agency disclosed the parachute actually contained a message, although they did not exactly say what it said.
According to a report published by The Guardian, internet detectives, after hearing the pronouncements of NASA officials, immediately went to work and within a couple of hours, cracked the hidden missive. It turns out that the red and white pattern of the parachute are concentric rings that spell out "Dare Mighty Things." This is the motto of the Perseverance team and is the same phrase that is displayed on the walls of Mission Control over at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) at NASA which is located at the Southern California headquarters of the mission team.
The outer ring on the parachute shows 34 11'58" N 118 10'31" W, which appears to indicate the coordinates for the JPL. Allen Chen, the chief of entry, descent, and landing (EDL) for Perseverance, during a press conference, challenged the public to look for the message and figure it out. "In addition to enabling incredible science, we hope our efforts in our engineering can inspire others," Chen said.
The EDL lead also said that sometimes, mission teams leave messages in their work for others to discover for that purpose. "So we invite you all to give it shot and show your work," Chen said. The chief engineer of Perseverance, Adam Steltzner, confirmed on Twitter late Monday night the existence of the hidden message on the parachute.
The "Dare Mighty Things" slogan is not the only thing that Perseverance brought to the Red Planet. If you zoom in on one of the thousands of images that NASA released from the six-wheeled planetary surface exploration vehicle, one can see a small family portrait of past and present rovers sent to Mars, including Perseverance. There is also an image of the Ingenuity helicopter, which according to reports, accompanied Perseverance to the Red Planet.
The space agency has included secret messages on past rovers. The Curiosity rover, which landed on Mars in 2012, had several small holes dotted in its aluminum wheels to allow the escape of tiny Mars pebbles trapped inside it.
Like the hidden message on the parachute, a cursory look would reveal nothing but for those with the right knowledge, the holes are actually a sequence of dots and dashes that read "JPL" in Morse code. This means that Curiosity managed to leave a plethora of "JPL" in Morse code on the soil of the Red Planet as it explored its surface. Unfortunately, Martian winds already erased the soil impressions.
In an interview with The Verge, Chen said that other engineers of the Perseverance mission team might have included some more secret messages on the rover besides the "Dare Mighty Things" code on the parachute. "People can't resist putting a little personal touch in their work. But the vast majority of these will perhaps remain hidden forever --- even from me," the EDL lead said.