Six Colors
Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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Secret binary message embedded in Mars Perseverance parachute

Yesterday at a press conference at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Mars Perseverance entry, descent and landing lead Allen Chen laid out a not particularly subtle challenge: “In addition to enabling incredible science, we hope our efforts and 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 a shot and show your work.”

As you might expect, the Internet solved the problem in a matter of hours:

The red and white pattern spelled out “Dare Mighty Things” in concentric rings. The saying is the Perseverance team’s motto, and it is also emblazoned on the walls of Mission Control at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the mission team’s Southern California headquarters.

As solver Abela Paf explained, the red-and-white parachute is actually encoding a 10-bit pattern, with four groups in concentric circles from innermost to outermost. It was later confirmed by Adam Steltzner, Perseverance’s chief engineer:

I love all these nerds. The ones who encoded text (and JPL’s latitude and longitude!) in a Mars parachute, and the ones who decoded it. All I’m left to wonder is, how long would it have taken for the Internet to figure it out if Chen hadn’t been quite so obvious in announcing the puzzle at his press conference?

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