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News Briefs II

Yang Shangkun, Former Chinese President, Dies

the Los Angeles Times

Former Chinese President Yang Shangkun, a once-powerful army general purged earlier this decade by the late Deng Xiaoping, died Monday in Beijing at 91, state media reported.

Viewers tuning in to the evening news on state television were cued to the death of a top official by the funeral dirge that is standard on such occasions. After a black-and-white photograph of Yang was shown, a somber anchorman in a black tie read his obituary.

As with most such obituaries, an unspecified illness was cited as the cause of death. Despite his advanced age, Yang was the most vigorous among the "eight immortals," a group of powerful party elders whose few surviving members have had little to do in recent years aside from occasionally offering advice.

While his post as president was largely ceremonial, Yang and his half-brother, chief political commissar Yang Baibing, headed the dominant faction in the military - known as the "Yang Family Generals" - in the early 1990s.

Fearing that the Yang clan might scuttle his plans to have Communist Party Secretary Jiang Zemin succeed him after his death, paramount leader Deng Xiaoping stripped the two brothers of their party posts and reshuffled a number of military commanders affiliated with them in 1992. Yang Shangkun retired as president the following year. Deng died in February 1997.

Examination of Mars' Moon Reveals Dust-Covered Surface


The first really good look at one of Mars' two small moons, Phobos, shows it's something of a powder puff.

Scientists controlling the Mars Surveyor spacecraft, which is in orbit around the red planet, report that new close-up images and infra-red measurements of Phobos indicate its surface is clothed in a hip-deep layer of dust.

"This is an incredibly fine powder formed from impacts over millions of years. And it looks like the whole surface is made of fine dust," said Philip Christensen, at Arizona State University.

The photos, when combined with temperature readings, indicate that Phobos' surface cools very rapidly as it rotates, with extreme temperature differences between the sunlit and dark sides of the small moon.

Phobos is the innermost, and the larger, of Mars' two moons. Its shape is irregular, 17 miles across at its greatest diameter. The other moon, Deimos, is roughly half that size. Both are thought to be constantly bombarded by space debris.

"The infra-red data tell us that Phobos - which does not have an atmosphere to hold heat in during the night - probably has a surface composed of very small particles that lose their heat rapidly once the sun has set," Christensen said.

Researchers added that the photos sent back from Mars Global Surveyor are the clearest ever taken, showing surface features, such as the crater called Stickney, in fine detail. Large boulders appear to be partly buried in the surface dust.