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Sunday, April 21, 2024

Ask Mr. Scientist, 01/27/2012


Dear Mr. Scientist,

Does alcohol really kill brain cells? My GPA isn't looking very good, and I can't really afford to lose many more.

-David M.

While alcohol won't kill brain cells, it can damage things called dendrites at the ends of neurons (nerve/brain cells). This doesn't kill the cell, but does affect the way it communicates with other neurons. Luckily, this damage is mostly reversible. More good news, a recent study has shown that moderate drinking may protect against cognitive impairment associated with aging. Don't let this be and excuse to throw caution to the wind, though. Like all things in life, alcohol should be enjoyed in moderation.

Dear Mr. Scientist,

How come it's cold in winter even though the Earth is at its closest distance from the Sun?

-Kaitlin D.

Although Earth's orbit around the sun is elliptical, it's still very close to being a circle, so the difference between the Earth's closest distance from the Sun and its farthest isn't that big. Seasons actually have nothing to do with the distance between the Earth and Sun. Rather, because Earth's axis is tilted (by about 23.5 degrees), the axis will tilt toward or away from the Sun at different times of year. We experience a cold winter in the northern hemisphere when the axis tilts away from the Sun, and a hot summer when the axis tilts toward the sun.

Mr. Scientist is Michael Leitch. If you have a burning science question you want him to answer, e-mail it to

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