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Mercury in retrograde: Myth or Fact?

Robin Steedman-Braun

Science and Environment Editor


Breakups, broken phones, missed buses; all things that tend to be blamed on a certain planet 77 million kilometers from earth: Mercury. In astrology, Mercury is believed to be the planet that rules communication and rationality, and this planet’s retrograde motion is thought to be harmful and worrisome. It is widely believed that Mercury retrograde causes issuesissue for technology and the Internet, as well as strains and fights in relationships. Many astrologers voice that one should avoid making big decisions during this time, and wait until retrograde is over to re-evaluate important choices.

Mercury retrograde is a phenomenon that occurs when the planet seems to be moving backwards in the sky, even though it is not actually doing so. Mercury is the closest planet to our sun, and therefore the fastest planet in our solar system since it requires only 88 days to complete its orbit. It has an appeared retrograde motion between three and four times a year. This year, there have been three retrograde periods, in January, May, and September, each lasting about three weeks. When a planet appears, as observed from Earth, to be moving in its reverse direction, it is said to be in retrograde motion. Differences in the orbits of the Earth and the observed planet cause an optical illusion, making us believe the planet is moving backwards. As Rim Dib, astronomy teacher at Dawson explains, as planets circle the sun in their orbit, they don’t all move at the same speed, and some planets “get ahead” while others “fall behind”. Just like when you are driving on a highway at a faster speed than a train beside you, the train appears to be moving backwards behind you, but it is simply moving at a slower forward pace. Normally, the planets move from west-to-east through the stars at night, which is known as prograde motion. However, this motion sometimes changes and the planets move from east-to-west, which is known as retrograde motion. In a sun-centered or heliocentric solar system such as our own, faster moving planets passing slower moving planets cause this retrograde effect. However, this does not actually impact life on Earth in any way. All the planets in our solar system constantly rotate in the same direction around the sun, and this never changes. While there are some cases in which certain planets do experience true retrograde motion, such as Venus which spins on its axis in the opposite direction than the other planets in the solar system, a phenomenon known as retrograde spin, Mercury does not fall into this category. Mercury’s apparent retrograde motion can entirely be blamed on our perception from Earth and does not correspond to true retrograde motion. According to the New York Times, studies led by astronomers have shown no correlation between the behaviour of planets in the solar system and people here on Earth, whether it be technological issues or strained relationships.



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