Has life seemed a little more chaotic than lately the past few weeks? According to many followers of astrology, part of the reason could be the pesky planet Mercury.
The basic belief is that when Mercury is in “retrograde”, things may not go as planned more often than usual. Think missed connections, delays and cancellations.
Astrologers and astronomers are unlikely to agree on the relationship between the motion (or perceived motion) of Mercury and such events in the daily lives of humans on a planet two worlds over, but they do essentially concur on what it means for Mercury to be in retrograde.
“When we say that a planet is in retrograde it means that from the perspective of Earth, a planet’s motion across the sky goes backwards night after night compared to its usual direction for a period of time,” explains Kate Howells for the Planetary Society, a space science organization.
In astronomy circles the term is “apparent retrograde motion” because Mercury doesn’t actually change its direction of motion. Rather it is a matter of perspective that comes from the moving Mercury overtaking slower-moving Earth as both worlds race around the sun.
The result is that Mercury appears to reverse its motion across the sky, but in reality the planet is just lapping us because its orbit around the sun is so much closer-in and shorter.
This occurrence is more frequent than you may realize. Because Mercury’s orbit is only 88 days long, compared to 365 for Earth, the phenomenon of Mercury in apparent retrograde motion happens three to four times a year.
In the astrology world, the phrase is shortened to simply “Mercury in retrograde,” which can be a little misleading, but most followers seem to acknowledge that the planet is not actually changing direction.
Sometimes, the phrase “retrograde” does refer to planetary bodies actually moving in the opposite direction of other bodies. For example, Venus rotates on its axis in retrograde motion to most other planets — the sun would rise there in the west and set in the east if it were ever not cloudy for a day. There’s also moons that orbit in a retrograde direction to most other satellites.
But this is just about being retrograde to a norm. The idea that a planet or moon could ever stop and totally reverse its actual course through the heavens or start spinning the opposite direction has yet to be observed and would likely be a remarkable and disruptive event (or the result of such an event).
The current apparent retrograde phase for Mercury started on April 21 and will continue until May 14. After about three weeks of appearing to move backwards, Mercury will seem to start moving “forward” again.
But what does science have to say about the idea that these orbital patterns affect the flow of events on Earth?
“There’s no scientific evidence that any planet’s apparent retrograde motion affects you at all,” Howells writes.
Meanwhile, the Farmer’s Almanac suggests that while Mercury is in retrograde, it’s good to take a moment to reflect:
“Try to remain flexible, patient, and understanding, allow extra time for travel, and avoid signing onto any new contracts that you’re unsure of. Double check your email responses and check in with reservations before you take that trip.”
This actually seems like good advice for any time of year, regardless of the apparent motion of any particular planets.