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Internet sleuths solve secret message on Perseverance rover's Mars parachute

NASA Mars 2020 mission members hid a secret message in the parachute that landed Perseverance on the surface of Mars.  (Image credit: NASA TV)

NASA hid a secret message on the parachute that landed its Perseverance rover down on the surface of Mars last week.

Internet sleuths claim to have "cracked a code" hidden in images from the Mars rover's landing last week. Colored patterns in the parachute used for landing appears to have been secretly inscribed with the phrase "Dare mighty things," a motto used by the Perseverance team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, which serves as mission control for the Perseverance rover mission. Also embedded in the message are the geographic coordinates for JPL:  34°11'58" N 118°10'31" W.

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During a news briefing on Monday (Feb. 22), NASA revealed the first video taken by Perseverance as it descended to and landed on the Martian surface Feb. 18. Those watching may have noticed a distinct red and white pattern on the interior of the parachute. Allen Chen, the entry, descent and landing lead for the mission confirmed in the briefing that there was a hidden message, and he dared the public to decode it. 

The decoded message on the parachute that landed Perseverance on the surface of Mars on Feb. 18, 2021.  (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

"In addition to enabling incredible science, we hope our efforts in our engineering can inspire others," Chen said during the briefing. "Sometimes we leave messages in our work for others to find for that purpose, so we invite you all to give it a shot and show your work."

The rover might even be hiding other secret messages, in addition to the team motto on the parachute, Chen told The Verge. "People can't resist putting a little personal touch in their work … But the vast majority of these will never be known — even by me," he said.

Related: 5 weird things the Perseverance rover took to Mars 

So, how does a seemingly normal-looking parachute hide such a message? Well, using different shapes and patterns on the parachute fabric to represent different numbers, the team at NASA was able to display the messages in binary computer code, according to the Verge.

Depending on the shape and location of the red-and-white color patterns patterns circling around the parachute's center, the segments represent different numbers which can be translated through binary code. Incredibly, people on the internet cracked the code just a few hours after NASA released the video showing the rover landing. 

"It looks like the internet has cracked the code in something like 6 hours! Oh internet is there anything you can't do?" NASA Perseverance chief engineer Adam Steltzner tweeted about the impressive code-cracking

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This isn't the first time that JPL engineers have snuck a secret message onto another planet. 

Tiny holes dotted the hollow, aluminum wheels of the agency's Curiosity rover, which landed on Mars in 2012 and continues to explore the Red Planet to this day. These holes served an important purpose by allowing Martian pebbles to fall through instead of getting trapped in the vehicle's wheels, but the holes also spelled out a secret message: "JPL" in Morse code. So, as the rover drives around the surface of Mars it imprints "JPL" in Morse code into the Martian terrain as it goes. 

Email Chelsea Gohd at cgohd@space.com or follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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Chelsea Gohd

Chelsea Gohd joined Space.com as an intern in the summer of 2018 and returned as a Staff Writer in 2019. After receiving a B.S. in Public Health, she worked as a science communicator at the American Museum of Natural History and even wrote an installation for the museum's permanent Hall of Meteorites. Chelsea has written for publications including Scientific American, Discover Magazine Blog, Astronomy Magazine, Live Science, All That is Interesting, AMNH Microbe Mondays blog, The Daily Targum and Roaring Earth. When not writing, reading or following the latest space and science discoveries, Chelsea is writing music and performing as her alter ego Foxanne (@foxannemusic). You can follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd.