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News briefs, part 2

NASA Requests FBI Investigate Problems at Calif. Research Center

The Washington Post

WASHINGTON

At NASA's request, the FBI is investigating possible criminal and national-security problems at the space agency's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., NASA officials announced Thursday.

The investigation is a follow-up to an internal NASA review last summer, according to FBI spokesman Rick Smith. That review found what NASA administrator Dan Goldin called "a major, major indication of potential violations of national security." He then turned the problem over to the FBI. The NASA inspector general also is continuing his investigation.

Goldin said in an interview that his review team told him that security procedures were inadequate at Ames to prevent "hostile intelligence activities" there.

Neither Goldin nor the FBI would be specific about the potential offenses or the nature of the security lapses. Smith cited two areas of investigation: "criminal activity and national-security concerns."

He added, "We don't want to magnify the importance" of the investigation. He emphasized that no arrests have been made and no conclusions reached. He said the probe may find only a potential for, rather than actual, violation of law.

The research center specializes in computer science, aerodynamics, flight simulation, hypersonic aircraft and other research. It supports military and civilian programs.

NASA officials said they do not believe that the problems are occurring at other NASA facilities.

The Ames "culture and environment were found to be the underlying cause of NASA's vulnerability," a NASA statement said. "The culture is strongly biased toward maintaining an academic reputation, rather than meeting U.S. industry and national needs."

Scientists Find Evidence In Favor of Black Hole Theory

Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON

Scientists using the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Hubble Space Telescope have found the most compelling evidence yet produced for the existence of stupefying massive objects called black holes.

Saying that they now have a chance to resolve the debate as early as 1994, the scientists released space telescope photographs of a swirling disk of dust, shooting jets of energy across 88,000 light years of space.

"It is the best look we have ever had at the workings of the nuclear engine at the center of an active galaxy," said Walter J. Jaffe, an astronomer at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands. "We haven't seen a black hole itself, but we are seeing as close to a black hole as we have ever seen before."

A black hole is predicted by both Sir Isaac Newton's and Albert Einstein's laws of physics. It should form when intense pressure, such as a supernova explosion, makes an object extremely compact, resulting in a surface gravity so powerful that nothing can travel fast enough to escape. Outside, no part of the black hole is visible, because even light is trapped. Inside, time and space act in utterly unfamiliar ways.

Jaffe told a news conference he believed that there was a black hole with a mass perhaps 10 million times that of the sun at the center of the disk. He theorizes that the enormous energy, streams of electrons flowing out at nearly the speed of light, is generated when material sucked into the hole is converted into energy by temperatures thousands of times hotter than the sun.

The disk photographed by the space telescope is at the core of an elliptical galaxy of 100 billion stars about 45 million light years from Earth in the galactic cluster Virgo.

Some 300 light years across, the outer fringe of the disk is rotating at about 50 miles per second, Jaffe said, while the inner region is rotating at perhaps 3,000 miles per second, under the influence of its massive core.

"It is almost certain," Jaffe told reporters, "that this disk is the material that is feeding the black hole, and it is almost certain that it is the spinning of this disk that provides the orientation of the two jets (of energy)."

Pennsylvania State University Professor Daniel W. Weedman, who remains an agnostic in the black hole debate, said, "We are really seeing into the fiery furnace, finally, after all these years. We have gotten the door open."

Yeltsin Seeks Better Economic, Security Ties With S. Korea

Los Angeles Times

SEOUL, South Korea

With an apology for the past and promises for disarmament and business opportunities for the future, Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin Thursday told South Koreans that Russia wanted to become an active player in both the economies and security of Asian-Pacific nations.

His apology was offered for the downing of a Korean Air Lines jet with 269 people, including 63 Americans, aboard a New York-to-Seoul flight in September 1983. He also handed over to President Roh Tae Woo the flight data and voice recorders from the airliner, shot down by a Soviet fighter's missile southwest of Sakhalin Island.

His disarmament promises included a statement that Russia in a few years might halve, then halt its production of military submarines. That statement, which came as a surprise to many officials in Moscow, was reported in Russia in a single sentence by the Itar-Tass news agency. It mirrored Russia's mounting economic troubles, its vastly changed military and security needs and disenchantment with the submarine as a cost-effective weapon.

On economic issues, Yeltsin said that Russia wanted to develop a "cooperative partnership" with the United States in Asia. Moscow wants to participate in the 12-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation organization.