MEASURING THE UNIVERSE In what is billed as the first step in a major effort to measure the size, scale, and age of the universe using the Hubble Space Telescope, researchers have announced the most accurate gauge yet of the distance to a remote galaxy known as M100, one of a cluster of galaxies in the constellation Virgo. By using such increasingly accurate distance measurements and the speed with which the galaxy is receding from the Milky Way, astronomers hope to close in on a more precise age for the universe, now thought to be between 10 billion and 20 billion years old. A team led by Wendy Freedman of the observatories of the Carnegie Institution of Washington focused on Cepheid variable stars, widely used as ``standard candles'' to determine intergalactic distances. M100 is the farthest known galaxy in which Cepheids have been detected. The latest distance measurement to M100, as well as its recession velocity, would yield a universe 8 billion to 12 billion years old. If subsequent work supports this younger universe, astronomers would be confronted with fundamental challenges to widely held theories about the how the universe evolved. Serbs flee in a rout

Thousands of Serbs have fled villages and military posts in northwest Bosnia, retreating from the most spectacular government offensive in 2-1/2 years of war, UN officials said yesterday. The predominantly Muslim government force has captured up to 60 square miles of territory to the east and southeast of Bihac, according to a UN spokesman. About 5,000 Serbs mostly women, children, and elderly have reportedly fled.

Mozambique surprise

Voting began in Mozambique's first multiparty election yesterday despite the jolting announcement of a boycott by former rebels that heightened tensions in a country trying to shed its history of civil war. The Mozambique National Resistance movement, Renamo, shocked organizers with its last-minute announcement it was pulling out of the election after two years of preparation. It said it feared irregularities in vote procedures would allow fraud. Two groups that fought for 15 years the rebels and President Joaquim Chissano's Mozambique Liberation Front were expected to win most of the 250 parliament seats.

First in Atlanta

Beverly Harvard was appointed Atlanta's new police chief Wednesday by Mayor Bill Campbell, who said she was the first black woman to head a big-city police department. She became deputy chief in 1982 and was named acting chief in April when Eldrin Bell resigned.

Winds, rain rake West

Heavy rains and high winds pounded the US Pacific Northwest yesterday in the first storm of the season. A bridge between Oregon and Washington was closed after being struck by a 900-foot tanker torn from its moorings. Winds up to 93 m.p.h. were reported.

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