There’s a secret code in the Mars rover’s parachute

NASA scientists teased the code’s existence on Monday. The Internet solved it within 6 hours.

When NASA’s Perseverance rover deployed its parachute during its death-defying plunge through the Red Planet’s atmosphere on Feb. 18, it flashed a secret code of red-and-white stripes across the sky, NASA scientists confirmed in a news conference on Monday (Feb. 22).

Internet sleuths cracked the code six hours after learning about it.

The stripes, which radiate from the parachute’s center in a seemingly random pattern of concentric circles, actually spell out a message written in binary computer code, Adam Steltzner, Perseverance’s chief engineer, revealed on Twitter after the code had been cracked Monday night. Each string of red-and-white stripes represents a single letter; when read in clockwise order from the innermost ring of the parachute to the outermost ring, the coded letters spell this message:

If that sounds familiar, it’s probably because the same message is written across the wall of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) headquarters in Pasadena, California, and has been the lab’s motto for years.

The outermost ring of the parachute also contains a set of coordinates: 34°11’58” N by 118°10’31” W — the location of JPL’s California headquarters.

In Monday’s news conference, Allen Chen, the lead systems engineer for Perseverance’s entry, descent and landing, challenged the public to find the secret message.

“In addition to enabling incredible science, we hope our efforts in our engineering can inspire others,” Chen said, as reported by The Verge. “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.”

Chen later told The Verge that there are likely more secret codes and messages hidden aboard Perseverance, a majority of which “will never be known — even by me,” he said.

Categories: Astronomy