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What is Mercury retrograde and how does it affect you?


Monday's total eclipse of the sun was not the only celestial event taking place this month.

The planet Mercury started its retrograde cycle at the beginning of April. For some, it's an event that makes them feel a little out of sorts, though scientists note it's nothing more than a trick of geometry. 

"Mercury retrograde is an optical illusion," says personal astrologer Sarah Goldsmith. "Mercury looks like it's moving backwards from our point of view here on Earth."

As the planets orbit the sun, sometimes it can appear to us as if one is moving in another direction. Mercury, for example, is often seen moving eastward across the sky night after night, but during retrograde, it appears to be moving westward. It takes Mercury just 88 days to complete a trip around the sun, compared to Earth's 365, which means that about three times a year, the optical illusion of retrograde is visible for about three weeks at a time. The planet isn't actually moving backwards, but from our vantage point on Earth, it looks like it is because of how the two planets are aligned and moving in comparison to one another.

The current retrograde period is expected to end around April 24. The next is scheduled to begin around Aug. 5.

Other planets have retrograde periods as well, but Mercury's is the most visible because of its proximity to the sun and to Earth, and because of the speed at which it orbits the sun compared to Earth.

In the 1970s and 80s, there was an astrology boom, when more Greek and Latin documents were translated from ancient astrologers. Experts say this resulted in more people using the stars as a way to better understand themselves and their relationships with the universe and environments. Mercury retrograde has become a well-known event in astrology and popular culture in recent years, even being referenced by celebrities like Taylor Swift.

Astrologers believe Mercury retrograde can make people feel like segments of their lives are moving in the wrong direction, and it is the perfect time to take a breath, relax, and rethink life choices.

"Me and many other astrologers define Mercury retrograde as a time to retrace your steps," says Goldsmith.

Planetary scientists, however, stress that there is no scientific evidence that the optical illusion of Mercury retrograde has any effect on people's behaviours.

It's a thought shared by some Ottawa residents who spoke to CTV News.

"There's no harm in it, you know – unless you're like, oh no! I crashed your car because I'm an Aries," said Patrick Stevens.

"I don't think there's any real world basis for astrology or astrologists," added Ava Wiebe. "People having conformation bias, picking out things that happen in their daily lives based on generic descriptions, I don't think there's any real value in it."

While astronomers say the apparent backwards motion of a planet 90 million kilometres away from us doesn't actually affect how we behave or what happens in our daily lives, astrologers say it can still be an excuse to take some time to slow down and reflect.

"Definitely don't rush," says Goldsmith. "Just be more thoughtful and more patient around Mercury retrograde."

With files from's Jeremiah Rodriguez Top Stories

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