Does acquiring a base tan each summer (in order to protect your skin from burning so quickly in future outings) help guard against getting skin cancer?
—Raoul Montez, El Paso, Texas
No. All unprotected sun exposure contributes to aging of the skin and cancer. Melanin, the pigment that accounts for the range of human skin color, is protective, so fair-skinned people are the most at risk. But even darker-skinned people, though they can tolerate much more exposure, need protection.
I’m embarrassed to admit that I have a fear of bridges. Although I know they’re safe, my fear is so strong that I’m unable to drive across any bridge that spans a significant expanse of water, such as a river. I can tolerate someone else doing the driving, but I always dread it, and my heart pounds wildly until it’s over. My family and closest friends know about my problem, but none of my coworkers do. Do you have any suggestions?
— G.J., St. Louis, Mo.
Yes! First, please take some comfort in the knowledge that your fear is quite common, and sufferers commonly don’t want anyone to know about it. The fear is called gephyrophobia (jeff-ih-roe-foe-beeuh). Second, I suggest you confide in your family physician and ask him or her for a recommendation for a therapist who may be able to help you conquer or alleviate your fear, which is not so different from a fear of flying.
When I was driving in an intense thunderstorm, I twice saw a blood-red lightning flash. How can this be? I thought lightning was always white.
—Catherine L., Colonial Beach, Va.
Lucky you! You witnessed a fabulous phenomenon known as a red sprite. These startling electrical displays take many forms, some of which (disks, cones, balls, columns, tendrils) may frighten observers who don't know what they are—clusters of charged particles that form above thunderstorms, which is why they're rarely seen from the ground. Blue, green and purple flashes also occur.