Mercury seen from NASA’s Messenger spacecraft. Several times a year, the planet appears to move backward in the sky, though it’s just an optical illusion. Mercury in retrograde has no effect on earthly happenings. At least that’s what the scientists say. (NASA / HO/EPA)

Two days ago, Jane Heller got a call from the doctor’s office saying that her appointment had to be changed to 3:30 p.m. “I said, ‘What appointment?’ ” she recalls. No one had ever told her that she had been put on the schedule.

Then she ordered the wrong slipcovers for her new furniture.

And when a Hollywood producer e-mailed the author saying that he wanted to option one of her novels for a television series, she called him back immediately. His response when she got him on the line: “What book was that again? I don’t remember asking about it. Sorry.”

All that, on top of surgery to remove skin cancer that left her with a larger-than-expected facial scar, led Heller to make this declaration on Twitter: “Is this the craziest/worst #MercuryRetrograde ever? It sure has been for me.”

If Twitter is to be believed, this astronomical phenomenon is responsible for car accidents, schedule changes, broken dishes and identity theft. And, brace yourselves, we still have another week to go.

As Ryan Seacrest told his followers — with the help of a scared-looking emoticon — “Stay strong friends.”

It happens three or four times a year — has always happened three or four times a year — that for a few weeks, the planet Mercury appears to move backward in the sky. Astrologers ascribe to this event a period of communication flubs, technology breakdowns and relationship turmoil.

And for some reason, this particular Mercury Retrograde is getting more widespread attention than ever before. Well, actually, the reason has a name — Taylor Swift.

In a recent MTV video, the singer explained it thusly: “When Mercury is in retrograde, basically that means that everything is going to be completely wrong and messed up and miscommunicated. Your phone will break or you’ll send a text message and it won’t get to the person it’s supposed to go to, or your flight gets delayed. And so you can’t blame yourself. You just have to blame Mercury, because it’s just hella in retrograde.”

You see? It’s not your fault! It’s not your fault that now it’s too late for returns and you have to live with the wrong slipcovers for the rest of your life.

Randy Goldberg, an Arlington astrologer, advises clients to avoid signing contracts during periods of Mercury Retrograde — this one lasts until Feb. 11 — and otherwise suggests that people use the time for personal reflection.

“Often a Mercury Retrograde is asking you to go back and redo, to review, to retreat, to reexamine, to slow down and to finish old projects that we hadn’t completed,” he says. “It’s a time when our energy is a bit more introverted, and if we’re trying to go full-speed ahead, we can be frustrated, hitting our heads against the wall.”

From a scientific standpoint, the earthly effects of Mercury Retrograde are, as astronomer Rick Fienberg put it, “a whole lot of bunk.”

Fienberg, who also serves as communications director of the American Astronomical Society, says that the astronomical event is really just a shift in perspective. “The Earth goes around the sun faster than Mercury goes around the sun, so as we pass it, it looks like Mercury is losing ground,” he says.

As for the events down here? “There are no known, no conceivable effects that the planets can have on our behavior,” he says. It’s just the power of suggestion. “A woman drops her iPhone in the toilet and she happens to read the astrology column and reads that Mercury is in retrograde. She’s tuned into an ancient superstition and thinks, ‘Well, that’s it. Mercury is in retrograde, that’s why I dropped it.’ When, in fact, she’s just clumsy.”

But that won’t stop many of us from assigning celestial meaning to our earthly events. “Why would you announce your first novel in decades during Mercury’s Retrograde?” one Twitter user posted about the news that Harper Lee is publishing a new book. Another took the opposite position: “A new #HarperLee book! Maybe this whole Mercury in retrograde thing isn’t that bad after all.” And can we really chalk it up to coincidence that upscale beauty shop Bluemercury was sold to Macy’s during Mercury Retrograde? Seems fishy.

Though she warned him not to, Jane Heller’s husband bought a new computer during one period of Mercury Retrograde. And sure enough, she says, “it was corrupted and he had to bring it back.”

She was careful to buy her new phone before this period of Mercury Retrograde began in January. And it’s working just fine, thank you. But even she sometimes wonders if this whole thing isn’t some kind of “self-fulfilling prophecy.” She expects mishaps to occur, and so they do.

Regardless, Heller can’t shake the feeling that there’s something very real about the Mercury-fueled madness.

“For some reason,” she says, “I will be relieved when it’s over.”