It's both tempting and popular to blame everything from trouble sleeping to relationship drama on Mercury being in retrograde, but scientists say the whole thing is pretty much bogus. In case you've somehow managed to escape the hoopla, Mercury has been in retrograde since December 3 and will continue to be until December 22.
NASA defines a planet being in retrograde as "an APPARENT change in the movement of the planet through the sky." The emphasis is theirs, and the article goes on to explain: "It is not REAL in that the planet does not physically start moving backwards in its orbit. It just appears to do so because of the relative positions of the planet and Earth and how they are moving around the Sun."
Mercury goes into retrograde about four times a year, and the state has long been credited with affecting our moods, eating habits, communication abilities, and sleeping patterns. We're often cautioned not to make any major purchases or commitments while Mercury's is in retrograde, and to expect problems with transportation and even electronics.
But according to Michelle Nichols, director of public observing at Chicago's Adler Planetarium, all of this may be totally unnecessary. "Other planets in the solar system have no effect on our planet. Everything is just too far away," she recently told Business Insider. "You could hold out a book in your hand and the gravitational effect of that book on you is going to be greater than Mercury's."
And Business Insider is far from the first publication to come to that conclusion. In an article last year on Live Science, astronomer and UCLA professor Jean-Luc Margot says: "The idea that the gravity from these very distant bodies affects our lives in some way just doesn't work in the framework of physics."
So why do some people feel decidedly out of whack during Mercury's retrograde periods? According to Nichols, it's basically a placebo effect. We know it's in retrograde, and we know how that's supposed to make us feel, so as soon as, say, we get into a blowout with our significant other or miss a flight, we jump to the conclusion that it must be that pesky Mercury again. After all, it's much easier to blame the planets than it is to blame ourselves. According to Mental Floss, this has been a thing since the mid-18th century, but as astrology became popular in the Victorian era and then again in the '60s, theories about Mercury retrograde gained steam.
That being said, while scientists don't have much time for Mercury retrograde theories, astrologers still very much believe. In astrology, Mercury is the messenger, ruling day-to-day communication, which is why astrologers tend to think that Mercury being in retrograde makes it more difficult for us to interact with one another. Mercury also rules Gemini and Virgo.
In an extensive explanation of the astrological implications of Mercury retrograde, famed astrologer Susan Miller says: "When Mercury retrogrades, think of it as an instant signal that the wind is changing direction. Something is in flux up on the road ahead, but the problem is, everything looks the same and unchanging.
Of course, Mercury retrograde isn't the only thing astronomers and astrologers likely disagree on, and just because you acknowledge the realities of science doesn't mean you can't also appreciate astrology. And if you've been feeling particularly frazzled over the past few weeks and pinning it on Mercury, take solace in the fact that it's probably within your control.