No, Mercury In Retrograde Is Not Destroying Your Life

Brilliance | Dec. 15, 2017

Bad week? Blame the full moon. Not sold? Blame Mercury. It is in retrograde, after all. And, well, we all know what means: close to nothing. Snap out of it, man! 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.

More Than Meets The Eye

Mercury being in retrograde isn't a myth. It's a real astronomical event, just like any given phase of the moon, meteor shower, or solar eclipse. The word retrograde means moving or directed backward. When Mercury is in retrograde, it isn't moving backward, but it appears to us on Earth that 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 off the side of the road in the 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. 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 slip as inarguable fact. Astrology may be fun, but it sure isn't science.

The reason people believe in it is 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. The weird and bizarre during "Mercury in retrograde" isn't celestial magic, it's coincidence.

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