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News Briefs

Astronomers Claim Asteroid Is Largest on Record


For 200 years the giant asteroid Ceres has held the title as the largest known “minor planet” in the solar system.

Ceres is a spherical space rock orbiting in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. It is nearly 600 miles in diameter, roughly the distance from Baltimore to Chicago.

Now a team of European astronomers is claiming that Ceres has been eclipsed in size by a newly discovered object, found near the orbit of Pluto.

The new asteroid could be as big as 870 miles across, according to calculations by a team led by Gerhard Hahn, of the German Aerospace Center in Berlin.

The team’s news release called the data “decisive relegating [Ceres] to second place after holding the asteroid size record for 200 years.”

Not so fast, said Brian Marsden, director of the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center. He said an asteroid’s size can’t be determined precisely without first knowing both its distance and its brightness, or reflectivity -- also called its “albedo.”

The Europeans have determined the object’s orbit and distance, he said. But, he added, “It’s a little premature for them to boldly come along and give a size, when they’re still assuming an albedo. More precise observations are needed.”

Bush Offers First Comments on Missing Intern Chandra Levy


Breaking a months-long silence on the case, George W. Bush on Friday expressed his sympathy for the family of missing Washington, D.C., intern Chandra Levy and said he hopes that “the Levy (family) prayers are answered.”

“This isn’t about a congressman,” Bush added, referring to Rep. Gary Condit, D-Calif., who has admitted to a “very close” relationship with the Modesto, Calif., woman before she mysteriously vanished in Washington in April.

“This is about a family who lost a daughter, and that’s what I’m concerned about,” the president said during a news conference here.

“And I hope that if she is alive, she’s returned soon. And I pray she’s alive. That’s what -- that’s where my heart is, and that’s where my concerns are on this issue,” Bush continued.

Russia Downplays ABM Remarks


Russian officials reacted mildly Friday to George W. Bush’s bluntest statement yet that the United States will scrap a 30-year-old arms control treaty “on our timetable” in order to test a national missile defense system.

The Foreign Ministry simply said talks about the future of the treaty have been useful, and bilateral ties between the two countries have improved since Bush met with President Putin in June and July.

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, in the latest of a series of high-level consultations, made an implicit pitch for Russia’s proposal for deep cuts in the number of strategic warheads. In a meeting with John R. Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, Ivanov reminded Bolton that Bush and Putin had agreed that the issues of missile defense and weapons cuts were “inseparably connected,” a ministry statement said.

Bush’s comments Thursday were the strongest suggestion yet that the United States will jettison the agreement despite Russia’s objections.