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What Does “Mercury in Retrograde” Really Mean?

Having car trouble? Relationship problems? Travel plans gone bust? Ah yes, it must be Mercury in retrograde. Astrology enthusiasts despise this time of the year because it tends to throw life out of whack and incur heavy sides of stress, or so they believe. Hate to burst that bubble, but the planets in our solar system aren’t the source of life’s crappy situations. Astronomers at NASA explain that Mercury in retrograde, which refers to the direction of the planet’s revolution around the sun, is more common than we think.

So what exactly happens to Mercury during its retrograde period?

In this video we found at Laughing Squid, you’ll see that retrograde motion takes place when the planet in question (not just Mercury) appears to move opposite from its usual direction in the sky. Normally, planets move west to east, but in retrograde motion, a planet will appear to move from east to west around the sun. Retrograde lasts for two to three weeks at a time, and happens three to four times a year. Once a period is over, the planet goes back into prograde motion. According to New York Magazine, this behavior can be explained within the context of a Sun-centered (heliocentricsolar system. Simply put, retrograde motion happens when a fast moving planet catches up with a slow moving one.

You can experience the retrograde effect for yourself by following a few instructions by StarChild at NASA:

“Start by standing side by side with a friend. Have a friend walk forward slowly. Now you walk forward at a faster speed. Watch your friend and think about how they are moving relative to you. At first, they move away, then as you pass them, they APPEAR to be moving backward relative to you – even though they are still walking forward.”

Might sound overly simple, but it’s a good way to explain a celestial phenomenon that’s played a big role in many of our lives. Have you ever seen or experienced retrograde motion? If so, leave us a comment about your experience!

Image: NASA

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