Astronomy

No, Mercury In Retrograde Is Not Destroying Your Life

Bad week? Blame Mercury. It is in retrograde, after all. And, well, we all know what that means: close to nothing. Mercury being in retrograde is very much a real thing, but we promise this planet (or any other heavenly body) is not fixing to destroy your life.

The planet Mercury is seen in silhouette, lower third of image, as it transits across the face of the sun Monday, May 9, 2016, as viewed from Boyertown, Pennsylvania.

More Than Meets The Eye

Mercury being in retrograde isn't a myth. It's a real astronomical event, just like a comet fly-by, meteor shower, or solar eclipse. The word "retrograde" means moving or directed backward. When Mercury is in retrograde, it isn't actually moving backward, but here on Earth it looks like it's going in a reverse orbit around the sun. Normally, planets move west to east through the night sky, which is called prograde motion. When planets move east to west through the stars, that is retrograde motion.

Stephen J. Daunt, an assistant professor of astronomy at the University of Tennessee, told the New York Times that Mercury's apparent migration is nothing but an optical illusion caused by the difference in the orbit speeds of Mercury and Earth. Imagine driving down a highway and passing a cow slowly walking on the side of the road in your same direction. The cow appears to be moving backward, Daunt explained, but it's not.

The Boy Who Cried Retrograde

In astronomy, Mercury in retrograde is exactly what we described above. That's not to be confused with astrology, which Canadian philosopher Paul R. Thagard describes in his 1978 paper published on behalf of the Philosophy of Science Association as 100 percent pseudoscience. Believing that movement of a little planet in our solar system is making your boss extra cranky this month is as scientific as accepting your fortune cookie's fortune as inarguable fact. Astrology may be fun, but it sure isn't science.

But if you look for things going wrong while Mercury is in retrograde, you'll probably find them. That comes down to confirmation bias, which is the psychological phenomenon that causes us to seek out and embrace information that confirms our pre-existing beliefs and ignore the rest. To confirm that Mercury being in retrograde is making the world screwy, a believer will look for any goofy occurrence to strengthen their case — even though bad things happen all the time, not just while one planet appears to be moving strangely. The weird and bizarre during "Mercury in retrograde" isn't celestial magic; it's coincidence.

Mercury In Retrograde, Explained Without Astrology

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Written by Joanie Faletto September 7, 2017

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