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News Briefs

Small, Icy Object Is Found on Fringe of Solar System


Far beyond Pluto, out where the Sun is only a pinpoint of pale light, a frozen world has been found on the dark fringes of the solar system. Astronomers say it is by far the most distant object known to orbit the Sun and the largest one to be detected since the discovery of Pluto in 1930.

With one discovery, it seems, the solar system has gotten much bigger, glimpses of its outer reaches bringing a sense of reality to what had been a remote frontier of hypothesis. And perhaps it has gotten stranger, too.

“There’s absolutely nothing else like it known in the solar system,” Dr. Michael Brown, an astronomer at the California Institute of Technology who led the discovery team, said of the newfound object.

But in a telephone news conference on Monday from Pasadena, Brown added, “Our prediction is that there will be many, many more of these objects discovered in the next five years, and some of them will probably be more massive.”

The researchers, whose observations were supported by NASA, said the object, referred to as a planetoid, is extremely frigid (minus 400 degrees Fahrenheit) and peculiarly red, probably more so than any other body in the solar system except Mars. They are not sure why, and also have few ideas of the object’s composition. It could be a primordial mix of rock and ice.

Fresno Victims All Died by Gunfire


The nine victims in this city’s worst mass murder were all killed by gunshots, the police said on Monday. They said investigators were trying to determine whether the suspected killer, believed to be the father of all the victims, was helped by someone else.

The bodies -- six females and three males ages 1 to 24 -- were found on Friday when the police responded to a child-custody call at a house. After a standoff with the suspect, Marcus D. Wesson, 57, they took him into custody. Wesson’s arraignment on nine counts of murder has been scheduled for Wednesday.

Three of the victims were a year old, and four others were younger than 9. The other two victims were a 17-year-old girl and a 24-year-old woman, the police said. Two of the toddlers may be the result of incestuous relations between Wesson and his older daughters, the authorities said.

Autopsies on seven of the victims indicate that they suffered gunshot wounds, while injuries on the last two bodies still under examination exhibited injuries similar to gunshot wounds, the authorities said.

The Fresno County coroner’s office said one of the victims might have been somehow involved in the shootings. Chief Jerry Dyer of the Fresno Police Department declined to comment about a second killer but said it was “something we are keeping an open mind to.”