By now, you may have heard that on top of sending back the first-ever footage of a rover landing on Mars and the first-ever real audio recording from another planet, Perseverance also smuggled a hidden message in the pattern on its parachute. Well, it turns out that is not the only “Easter egg” Perseverance took to the Red Planet.
The rover is carrying plenty of precious cargo – from sophisticated science equipment to aid it in its search for ancient life to the first microphones on Mars, not to mention the first helicopter, Ingenuity – but it also has quite a few "hidden gems" that have come along for the ride. Ranging from a poignant memorial to a returning chunk of Mars meteorite, the first dinosaur on Mars (sort of), and an aww-inducing "family portrait", the symbols, mottos, and objects adorning the rover range from practical to playful.
Here's a look at the ones we know about. But, as Allen Chen, lead engineer on Perseverance's entry, descent, and landing, pointed out to 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.”
This aluminum memorial plaque bears the symbol of the Rod of Asclepius – the ancient Greek symbol of healing and medicine – to commemorate the virus's impact that could have set the mission off course, and pay tribute to "the perseverance of healthcare workers around the world." Challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic had the team worrying they may miss their launch window, but thanks to the professionalism at NASA and the safety precautions taken, Perseverance launched in July 2020. Nonetheless, the plaque commemorating the hard work of medical professionals worldwide was added to the rover.
The Rover "Family Portrait"
Perseverance is the fifth rover NASA has sent to Mars and though it may be, in NASA's words, the "biggest, heaviest, cleanest, and most sophisticated six-wheeled robotic geologist ever launched into space," it wouldn't have got there without the success of its forebearers. From left to right you can see: Soujourner, Spirit, Opportunity, Curiosity, Perseverance, and Ingenuity.
The First Dinosaur On Mars?
Serving as Perseverance's "eyes", its Mastcams can take color images, videos, and 3D stereo images, and have a powerful zoom. The pictures and colors decorating it look cool, but they also serve an interesting purpose. Scientists use the color and greyscale swatches on the calibration target – which doubles as a sundial – to fine-tune and color-correct the cameras' settings.
The images surrounding the target represent Earth's earliest lifeforms, including cyanobacteria, a fern, and a dinosaur, as well as a man and woman similar to those on the Pioneer plaques and the Golden Record aboard Voyager.
Around the outer edge of the target is the inscription: "Are we alone? We came here to look for signs of life, and to collect samples of Mars for study on Earth. To those who follow, we wish a safe journey and the joy of discovery." Surrounding this is the message "Joy of Discovery" in a variety of languages.
In Case Aliens Can Read Morse Code
If you're reading this you may be one of the nearly 11 million people who sent their names to Mars. Each name was individually stenciled onto the three chips on the top left by electron beam, along with the essays of the 155 finalists in NASA's "Name the rover" contest. You may not know, however, that the words "Explore as One" are written in Morse code in the Sun's rays on the placard, connecting Earth on the left and Mars on the right.
SHERLOC Is Carrying Space Suits
If you're into geocaching – essentially a treasure hunt using GPS to find remote geolocations hidden by other enthusiasts – then SHERLOC has the ultimate find. The calibration target for the SHERLOC (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals) instrument is packed full of goodies. A coin (bottom left) made from spacesuit helmet visor material and inscribed with the Great Detective's fictional address doubles as a geocache. It also contains four other spacesuit materials (bottom row) to test out how they fare with radiation on Mars, and a slice of a Mars meteorite.
Returning A Martian Meteorite Home
This little slice of Martian meteorite has returned home. The geologists working on the rover's Supercam, a laser instrument that zaps Martian rocks and soil to determine their composition, chose a slice of this Martian meteorite to act as a calibrator for the instrument. Scientists use calibration targets as a way of fine-tuning the settings on their instruments. Plus, it's poetic to return this little space rock to its home planet.
As Chen said, there may be even more hidden messages that hitched a ride to Mars on Perseverance. If you uncover any more Easter eggs, let us know in the comments!