What are the beliefs about how the Mercury retrograde affects people?
In astrology, the period of Mercury's reverse motion has come to symbolise a time of general mayhem. Most astrologists believe that, because Mercury is the planet said to rule communication, during this period you can expect a load of misunderstandings, scheduling disasters and arguments with your friends.
Astrology blogger Sage Goddess believes that when Mercury is in retrograde it's the best time to learn from your mistakes. "Astrologers recommend easing off certain pursuits, like starting new projects, signing contracts, completing tasks, and building new relationships. Mercury Retrograde is one of the best times to pick up old ideas and bring them back to life," she says.
For the rest of us, the Mercury retrograde is a bit of a meme or a jokey scapegoat for when you need to dissolve tension after something goes drastically wrong in your life.
How old are these beliefs?
Different versions of astrology have been around for thousands of years, and the ties between the Mercury retrograde and misfortune go back to an ancient branch of astrology called horary astrology.
Indigenous astronomy in Australia goes back more than 65,000 years. "We do see the retrograde motion in planets in Aboriginal astronomy tradition. Aboriginal Australians knew the planets were different from the stars and that they were 'wandering'," Ms Banks, a Wiradjuri woman and a University of New South Wales astrophysicist, told the ABC. "Some Indigenous people, their Dreaming referred to the planets as spirits that walk the path for us, the path can sometimes take you forward and sometimes backward [retrograde], which I think is a beautiful sentiment."
It wasn't until the 1930s that sun sign astrology started taking off and publications like The Boston Globe and the Los Angeles Times discovered that personalised horoscopes were great for driving newspaper sales.
What is the science behind it? Do all planets retrograde?
"When we overtake the slower planets, from our point of view on Earth, they look like they're moving forward and then backwards for a little bit," says astrophysicist Dr Rosemary Mardling.
But according to Dr Mardling, the Mercury retrograde illusion doesn't even exist. "The phenomenon of retrograde planetary motion from the earth's point of view only happens for planets further away from the sun than the earth," she says over the phone. "So it happens for Mars and everybody further out: Jupiter and Saturn and so on. And that's because they're moving more slowly around the sun and so we overtake them."
She explains that "Mercury is moving the fastest. It's moving around the sun every 88 days, and we take 365 days. So we never see Mercury moving in retrograde."
Where do the theories behind Mercury retrograde come from and why? Is it a superstition?
"Well, it's probably the same as religion and everything else that people, before science, needed to explain things," says Dr Mardling when asked how astrologists started to derive meaning from the Mercury retrograde.
"It's just made up. People aren't trained from a young age to think about whether something makes sense or not. That's why people get ripped off in shops all the time: because they don't know how to estimate or how to tell if someone's pulling their leg or not," she continues. "In astrology, there's a lot of psychology that goes into making people believe it. You can see patterns in things that don't exist."
Google Trends shows that, in Australia, searches for 'mercury retrograde' have quadrupled since 2004. There's even a website dedicated to it aptly titled 'Is Mercury In Retrograde?'.
Conducted in 1982, a small study found that people who look to astrology often did so because they were stressed out. Specifically, this stress was related to "the individual's social roles and to his or her relationships." It's thought that the rise in astrology's popularity among Millenials and Gen Z folk could be due to higher rates of stress in people's day-to-day lives.
That said, astrology can simply be a bit of fun. Make sure to take the Mercury retrograde with a grain of salt and don't get too concerned when your horoscope tries to convince you that all your electronics are going to break because of an optical illusion that may or may not exist.