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From the Neolithic to present times, the amount of sunlight we see in a day has had a profound impact on human culture. We are fast approaching the winter solstice for the Northern hemisphere, which takes place on December 21. This is the longest night of the year – once celebrated as “Yule” by the pagan people of Northern Europe before it became Christmas.

Christmas and the holidays are a time to relax and celebrate with family and friends. But the festive season can also be a time of unwanted weight gain that won’t budge once the holidays are over.

Research (mostly from the United States) has found adults typically gain 400 to 900 grams over the holidays.

No-one wants to miss out on the celebrations. But knowing more about the kilojoule content of your favourite Christmas treats can help you make conscious decisions about which foods and drinks to have and enjoy, and what portion sizes to choose.

This year, I served on the judging panel for The Royal Statistical Society’s International Statistic of the Year.

On Dec. 18, we announced the winner: 90.5 percent, the amount of plastic that has never been recycled. Okay – but why is that such a big deal?

This is an article from Head to Head, a series in which academics from different disciplines chew over current debates. Let us know what else you’d like covered – all questions are welcome..

Sharon George: Plastics are ingrained in our everyday lives. Since 1950, it’s estimated that we have produced billions of tons of plastic, and most of this is not recycled.

Plastics have spread around the world through oceans, rivers and the air to every part of the planet. In rivers and oceans, plastic moves vast distances and is now found right through the water column of the oceans, from the surface to the deepest trenches.

One of the most baffling puzzles of modern astrophysics is the nature of Fast Radio Bursts, which were discovered in 2007. These are seemingly rare, extremely bright flashes of light with radio wavelengths. They last only milliseconds; originate outside our galaxy, the Milky Way; come from regions with enormously strong magnetic fields; and pass through a significant amount of gas or dust before reaching Earth.

Obesity is a disease where people accumulate more and more fat. When they reach a certain point, their fat stops working and they develop disease, such as type 2 diabetes. But not all fat is bad. The fat that accumulates in obesity is called white fat, but a second form of fat (brown fat) could actually be used to treat obesity.

Brown fat has evolved to turn fuel into heat. In small animals, like mice and voles, brown fat makes heat that helps them survive, even in freezing temperatures.