Tuesday, 3 June 2014


An exoplanet named Kepler-10c has been discovered which has a high mass but a diameter only about twice that of Earth.

An exoplanet that massive would have been expected to have a gaseous composition, attracting hydrogen gas, similar to Jupiter or Neptune in the solar system.

The diameter of Kepler-10c was determined using a light-dip technique as the exoplanet transited its host star, while its mass was measured by examining the gravitational attraction between exoplanet and star.

These measurement indicate that the new exoplanet has a density of 7.5 grams per cubic centimetre, compared with Earth's 5.5 gram per cubic centimetre, according to Professor Dimitar Sasselov of the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics. Professor Sasselov said 'Finding Kepler-10c tells us that rocky planets could form much earlier than we thought. And if you can make rocks, you can make life.'

The host star is about 560 light years away from Earth. and is about 11 billion years old, which is early in the evolution of the universe when generations of exploding stars have not had long to make the heavy elements needed to construct rock planets.

Comment:  The US space agency's Kepler telescope continues to make further discoveries of different types of exoplanets, increasing our understanding of planetary formation.

Monday, 2 June 2014


A survey by the Royal College of Psychiatrists suggests that pressure on mental health beds is so severe that some patients are having to be 'sectioned' to secure necessary care.

The survey also suggests that critically unwell patients are being sent home because no bed can be found for them.

The survey found that 18% of the junior doctors working in psychiatry in the study said that their decision to detain a patient under the Mental Health Act (referred to as 'sectioning') had been influenced by the fact that doing so might make the provision of a bed more likely. 37% said a colleague's decision had been similarly influenced.

One-in-four said a bed manager had told them that unless their patient had been sectioned they would not get a bed. 

Almost 30% have sent a critically-ill patient home because no bed could be found. A third had seen a patient admitted to a ward without a bed.  22% had been forced to send a child more than 200 miles from their families for treatment.

Doctors also reported sending adult patients long distances to access care and admitting people into a bed belonging to another patient who had been sent home for a period of trial leave.

Dr Howard Ryland of the Royal College of Psychiatrists described the survey findings as 'very alarming'. 'People are beginning to recognise that there is a real crisis in mental health.'

The Care Minister Norman Lamb said 'It is not acceptable to detain someone under the Mental Health Act purely because they need an inpatient bed.'

Investigations in recent months have highlighted that more than 1,700 mental health beds have been cut, and that patients are travelling huge distances to access care.

Comment: The findings of this survey, and the information about reductions in mental health beds, are extremely disturbing, affecting as it often does some of the most vulnerable people, at a time of crisis in their lives. The use of the term 'sectioning'  - which in effect means being arrested - has become a sort of euphemism and a derogatory term of abuse. The use of this term should be stopped. It is an example of discrimination against mental health patients. The findings of this survey demonstrate clear evidence that the procedure is open to abuse, and is now being routinely abused.  Action is needed urgently by the government to end this crisis in health care in the NHS. It is unacceptable that mental health patients are 'cared for' in this way.