Oregon State University's student-run lifestyle magazine

Beaver's Digest

Oregon State University's student-run lifestyle magazine

Beaver's Digest

Oregon State University's student-run lifestyle magazine

Beaver's Digest

Latest issue

Astronomers and astrologists offer their POV’s on Mercury in Retrograde

Hayden Lohr
Zane, head of the Pagan Student association, on April 11, 2024 in the Memorial Union quad

Whether you are a die hard believer in astrology or just casually scrolling on your phone, you might have seen on social media that Mercury has entered its retrograde era, but you may be wondering what this means. 

As we are orbiting around the sun along with other planets, we might look out and see Mercury moving alongside us, though at a much faster speed. And the next day we look and Mercury is in an entirely different position than the day before. It looks like it changed direction and is now going backwards. But is it actually? 

Sometimes the difference in speed as well as our vantage point from planet earth can give us the illusion that other planets are moving backwards, or are in retrograde.  

“Our orbits are not the same distances from the sun,” said Randall Milstein, a professor of astronomy at the physics department at Oregon State University. “It means we are in different positions at different times.”

When we look at planets like Mercury, which travels at a much faster speed than Earth, during specific times of the year, it appears to be going backwards. But that is just what we see from our position in the solar system. 

According to Milstein, Mercury rotates three times every two orbits of the sun. 

“You can see when (Mercury is) going really fast and we’re going slower,” Milstein said. “We’re viewing it from different positions in the sky at different times of the year.” 

In 2024, according to a CNN article, Mercury will be in retrograde between the following dates: April 1-24, August 5-27, November 25-December 15. 

While astronomers view Mercury in retrograde as a natural planetary movement, astrology practitioners and believers interpret it as human functions going backwards. 

“Our solar system has influence over the happenings on earth,” said Zane Yinger, a fifth-year ethnobotany major at OSU and one of the leaders of the Student Pagan Association. They practice ancient Greek, or Hellenic, astrology. 

Yinger explained that ancient astrological practice focuses on the conditions that the planets could bring to the world rather than their impacts on our personalities, which is how astrology is sometimes interpreted in popular culture. 

According to Yinger, due to its speed, planet Mercury is associated with the mythological figure, Hermes, the Greek god of trade and travel whose Roman equivalent is, also, Mercury, or Mercurius. 

“These two deities are conflated as counterparts and they govern trade (and) commerce,” Yinger said. “Mercury is a very fast planet. That’s why it’s been relegated (to) this messenger role because it moves so quickly.” 

Since Mercury travels around the solar system very quickly, Yinger explained, it plays a major role in communication across the planets. Whether this communication is direct or indirect depends on which way Mercury seems to be going. In other words, whether it’s in prograde (going forward) or in retrograde (going backwards). 

“When (Mercury) is operating in direct motion, it brings that direct quality in communication to the land,” Yinger said. “Whereas when there is indirect motion, or retrograde, the planet is moving slow. It’s moving backward. This brings confusion, frustration, etc.” 

Yinger added that even though Mercury is not the only planet going through similar retrograde motions, it’s the one planet that gets a lot of attention especially in pop culture. 

“It’s very common for people to highlight and pay attention to Mercury in retrograde as the source of all their problems,” Yinger said. 

For Milstein, Mercury in retrograde is simply a natural, scientific phenomenon and for scientists such as Milstein it’s just a matter of perspective.  

Milstein explained that if we were on planet Mars looking toward Earth, it would look like Earth is in retrograde like how we see Mercury in retrograde from where we are.  

“It’s like Star Wars,” Milstein said. “It all depends on your point of view.”

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