Since landing on Mars a year ago, NASA's pair of six-wheeled geologists have been constantly exposed to martian winds and dust. As a result, the Spirit rover has gradually experienced a slight decline in power as a thin layer of dust has accumulated on the solar panels, blocking some of the sunlight that is converted to electricity. In this enlarged image of a postage-stamp-size (3-centimeter-square, 1.2-inch-square) portion of one of Spirit's solar panels, a fine layer of martian dust coats electrical connections and metal surfaces. Individual silt grains or clumps of dust are visible where sediment has accumulated in crevices between solar cells and circuits. The upper right half of the image shows the edge of one of the rover's solar cells. The lower left half shows electrical wires bonded with silicon adhesive to the underlying composite surface; the circular abrasions are the result of sanding by hand on Earth. The braided wire is connected to a thermocouple used to measure temperature based on electrical resistance. Spirit took this image with its microscopic imager on martian day, or sol, 350 (Dec. 26, 2004).


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