Mercury and Venus in conjunction to the Sun, spot the difference

Due to my protracted illness in August (a very bad case of influenza) I missed the opportunity to talk, amongst other things, of the simultaneous conjunctions of Mercury and Venus to the Sun in Leo.

I’m trying to make up for it in this post because these transits are still very relevant.

Mercury became retrograde in the early degrees of Virgo on August 3, and then moved back toward the Sun in Leo. Little Brother met the Sun on August 17, afterwards re-entering the pre-dawn sky as a Morning Star. Only a day earlier, on August 16, Venus also met the Sun in Leo, but hers was a different meeting, and she is now slowly returning to the evening sky, setting after the Sun.

It may be possible to spot Mercury in early September, just before sunrise, in the East, while we’ll have to wait until mid-October to get a better view of Venus as Lady of the evenings. In fact mercury disappears from view only a couple of weeks at the time, while Venus disappears for several weeks.

The difference lays in the fact that Mercury, at Inferior Conjunction, was orbiting between the Earth and the Sun, while Venus, at Superior Conjunction, was passing on the other side of the Sun from Earth’s viewpoint. They appear to do the same thing, from our biased standpoint, but they are in fact doing very different things. Venus was really in opposition to the Sun, from an heliocentric (sun-centered) viewpoint, while Mercury was in fact in ‘regular’ conjunction to the Sun (on the same point of the Ecliptic from Earth)

During those particular phases of their orbits Venus and Mercury remained invisible, ‘combust’ in the Sun’s glow (combustion being the term used by traditional western astrologers to define a planet close enough to the Sun to be absorbed in its light).

A Morning Star planet, visible in the East before sunrise, is said to exert a positive, highly spirited energy, suitable for outward action. Because Mercury’s function is to allow rational thinking, logical connections and communication, these activities will receive a boost from this phase, allowing for more direct and effective communication, greater ease with the spoken and written words, and enhanced logical understanding. Business transactions could benefit from this position.

The Morning phase of either Venus or Mercury, is comparable to a New Moon, fostering initiative and the start of new ventures. As Mercury is concerned, god of merchants, intellectuals, talkers, readers, writers, teachers, students and thieves, we could all try something new during this period.

What Mercury gains in efficiency and logic could perhaps lose in intuitive perception and imagination, qualities better expressed by Mercury Evening Star (next period: end of October to late November 2011).

Venus, on the other hand, is now the Evening Star until June 2012. Her next Inferior Conjunction to the Sun will be in fact on June 6, 2012, while retrograding in Gemini. That conjunction will be a real event, the dark disk of Venus passing visibly upon the disk of the Sun, a sort of Solar Eclipse (phenomenon observable from most localities in Australia). These are rare conjunctions, that come in pair separated by a gap of eight years, the first of the pair having occurred in 2004. Another such pair will occur again only in about 121 years.

Coming back to the present Venus Evening Star, this phase is said to enhance Venus’ more intuitive and self-reflective qualities, helping us to gain greater awareness of the less conscious factors in our relationship. This is a cautious type of Venusian energy, not one likely to risk too much in love, or be blinded by appearances and wishful thinking. New as well as old relationships will be put to the test of this highly discriminating and profound Venus.

The Evening phase of a planet is comparable to a Full Moon, with the subsequent Waning period, a time for realization and illumination, also for sharing our experiences with others and begin a cycle of self-analysis and introspection.

We could emerge from this period with a whole new set of values as far as love and relationships are concerned, more mature, less naive, less plagued by too idealistic expectations of others.

Taking personal responsibility for one’s joy or lack of joy in life can be a gift of the Evening Venus, allowing for more honesty and understanding in relationships, but perhaps for less glamour and superficial romance too.


The Mistery of Retrogradation

Lately I have reflected upon and researched a lot the phenomenon of retrogradation, this optical illusion that, at regular interval, makes the planets appear to stop in their tracks, and then move for a while in the opposite direction of the one they normally travel on.

In real terms the planets of course never moves backward. From a sun centered (heliocentric) viewpoint they all travel at their appointed speed, always in the same direction, identical to planet Earth’s.

The phenomenon appears instead very ‘real’ from our Earth’s plane. With long exposure photography we are now able to actually see the shiny loop the planet’s course makes when retrograde.

Too often Retrogradation is accepted as part of the astrological tradition, and not given much thought or meaning.

This cyclical phenomenon appeared instead positively magical to the ancient sky-watchers, who eagerly awaited it, calculated its timing and duration and attributed to it great significance, in forecasting future events, in accordance with the nature of the planet involved.

We, modern people don’t need any more to search the sky for signs, to wait to see a star or planet rising before the Sun. Cyber-planetariums and astrological software are all we need to practice our Art. Thanks to technology we have the tools now to cast many horoscopes in record time, using the most sophisticated techniques ever, but we have also lost the ‘real’ magic of the night sky and twilight hours, the eternally returning cycles of the wandering planets, a vital dimension of the ancient wisdom tradition.

Understanding better what happens during a planet’s retrograde period and putting that particular period within the context of the planet’s whole cycle can help us to recapture some of its true meaning.

Every cycle in nature and therefore in the psyche of man can be conceived as having two halves or hemicycles, one of involution and one of evolution, a Yin and a Yang phase. The place where Yin and Yang meet is the matrix of each cycle, while the place of their maximum separation is the climax of each cycle. So we have a Waxing Phase, from matrix to climax, and a Waning Phase, from climax to matrix, in an eternal round. This specific rhythm permeates everything, all living beings, all experiences. The planets are no different. They too obey the inner order of things, and therefore follow a clear path of Ascent and Descent when viewed from the Earth’s plane.

The Moon is not the only celestial body to show phases, all planets do, each in its own peculiar way. Retrogradation has a lot to do with those phases.

I’m using Mercury here as an example of what retrogradation entails. Mercury is the planet that goes retrograded more often than any other, three or four times a year. At the time of writing it has just finished one of its retro periods on December 30 2010.

Each Planet is different in fundamental ways from all others, even with regard to their retro periods, but the underlying Waxing/Waning tempo is basically the same for all.

Mercury, from Evening to Morning Star

In 2011Mercury will be Retrograde three times, between March 30 and April 23, August 3 and 26, November 24 and December 14.

Often the period of Mercury’s retrogradation is simply interpreted as a time full of misunderstandings, technical glitches, disruption in communication, odd accidents, etc. These effects are often obvious indeed, especially for people who happen to have the Sun, Moon, Planets or their Birth Chart’s Angles (Ascendant, etc.) within the span of the zodiac covered by Mercury.

The Phases of Mercury however are as fundamental to this all important planetary energy as its zodiacal or hemispherical position, representing respectively the quality of its energy (Sign) and the areas of experience where this energy will more likely find expression (House).

When we attempt to interpret Mercury in a Birth Chart we tend to take its position (and that of all other celestial bodies) as fixed, a point in a linear, perhaps circular universe, in which Sun, Moon and Planets interact by angular relationship with each other, as in a neat example of cosmic geometry. We tend however to exclude from our interpretation the actual experience of Mercury as it manifests on our Earth plane.

We may learn from text books that Mercury’s orbit around the Sun in just less than three months (88 days), but the experience we have of the twinkling star that is Mercury to our unaided eyes is indeed very different. The visual cycle of Mercury lasts in fact 116 days (a bit less than four months), during which time this Planet, from our view point, appears to wax and wane.

In the light of the entire cycle the Retrogradation of Mercury is a most significant moment. During this special time the planet passes from waning to waxing, from Evening to Morning Star. This is not only a miracle to the beholder, seeing Mercury disappearing behind the Sun and then re-appearing on the other side, but a real shift of our awareness of the planet’s energy.

The retro period of any planet, like the dark three days of the New Moon, is a twilight status, like the one in between sleeping and wakening. We take usually a little while to wake up completely after a deep sleep. In real life as well as symbolically the in-between waking and sleep phase is all important because it is then that our creative imagination provides the most fertile ground for new insights.

Ten to fifteen days after the beginning of its retro motion Mercury becomes completely immersed in the light of the Sun, which has, in the mean time, caught up with it, due to its slowness. It is of course the Earth that is actually accelerating on Mercury, amounting to the same visual effect. The date of this all important conjunction for the upcoming cycle is April 10, 2011. At first will be a tentative beginning, when the new impulse is guided by yet unclear urges, stemming from the past while longing for the future.

Mid-way through its retro period, Mercury is as close to planet Earth than it will ever be, orbiting directly between us and the Sun disk. This conjunction of Mercury to the Sun is known as the Inferior Conjunction, to distinguish it from the Superior conjunction when Mercury is as far from Earth as it can possibly be and also disappear in the glare of the Sun, being visually just behind the Sun from our observation point on Earth. The Superior conjunction is really an opposition Mercury-Earth in a heliocentric view. The next Superior Conjunction will occur on June 13, and will represent the culmination of the cycle that starts in April.

Mercury turns Direct an average of 9 to 15 days after the Inferior Conjunction.

The phases bring to the ‘reading’ of Mercury an extra dimension, showing it as an ongoing process, rather than a fixed placement to be interpreted in a rigid way.

In this new light the Retrogradation of Mercury stands for a sort of preparatory period during which the lesson of the last mercurial cycle is appreciated and we look back in order to understand and re-value, before a new cycle can begin in a conscious way, when Mercury turns direct on April 24.

I hope that, if you didn’t know these facts already, you may feel better equipped now to answer your skeptic friends when they tell you that retrogradation is just an optical illusion and non existent. Something really happens to the relationship between the Earth and the planet when this appears to move in a backward fashion.

The astrological meaning of the Retrogradation of  Mercury

All planets’ retro periods represent a revaluation of sort, but what we need to reflect upon differs in accordance with the nature of the planet. So, for instance, during the retrogradation of Mars we need to re-value and re-consider the way we assert ourselves and go out to get what we want from life. This need of self-reflection could make this an ineffectual and tentative period, when for a time we may lose confidence, becoming less able to interact constructively with our environment. At the end we will have gained however a deeper understanding of what need changing in our attitude in order to achieve a less confrontational and more effective method of proceeding.

During the retrogradation of Venus the same thing happens to our feelings. We are inclined to reflect on the way we usually relate to others, especially in a one to one situation. For a time this could mean that we become more tentative when we relate to others, less outgoing, more introspective, not the best social time. But at the end of this tunnel too we may have discovered things about ourselves and our loved ones that can help immensely in healing rifts or deciding the fate of shaky or unsatisfactory relationships.

It is the same with Mercury. Its Evening Star incarnation (spanning in early 2011 from February 25 = Superior Conjunction to the Sun, to April 10 = Inferior Conjunction to the Sun), will be a time for giving due consideration to the way we communicate our thoughts and ideas to others, the way we tackle intellectual challenges, like writing, reading, studying, teaching. The retro motion of Mercury corresponds to a period of mental introspection, at the end of which we can start again to project our minds onto the world, with renewed inventiveness and adaptability to different circumstances and people. Mercury’s direct energy does in fact facilitate everything mercurial, such as change, communication, expression of idea in speech or writing, travel, brain-storming, moving etc. This is a forward looking mental impulse, bringing us out of ourselves and onto active participation with the world. This period will end with the Superior Conjunction on June 12, when our mental tendencies will have reached their more concrete and objective state. From then Mercury will begin to wane again, arriving at its next retro Station on August 3.

To discover which phase Mercury was going through at the time of your birth all you need to do is look for its position relative to the Sun. When Mercury is behind the Sun in longitude it appears as the Morning Star, displaying an outgoing type of energy, eager for self expression. When Mercury instead is found to be ahead of the Sun in longitude it appears as the Evening Star, directing its mental energy inward, aiding insight and introspection.



May, the month to observe four close members of our Solar family

Jupiter at dawn

Venus, Mars, and Saturn at dusk and through the night

 Jupiter is the only planet visible in the east in the early morning, very easy to spot, being the brightest object in that part of the sky. Jupiter will become brighter and brighter as the year advances, reaching its greatest brilliance in its whole 11.8 years cycle just in time for the Libra Equinox 2010 (September 21).This is due to the fact that Jupiter will reach its perihelion, closest position in relation to the Sun, in March 2011.

The giant planet has nearly finished its swift transit through the Sign of Pisces, leaving it on June 6. Jupiter will return to Pisces later in the year (September 9), until January 2011.

The passage of Jupiter over your own Sun Sign (or Moon, Ascendant Sign), should bring a desire to improve your circumstances, also a better feeling about yourself and your prospects. Through Jupiter we can have a more clear and promising visions of our potential, and a more positive outlook on life in general (see Jupiter in Pisces post).

On May 9 Jupiter will shine close south of the waning Moon in Pisces (see  a picture of this conjunction in May’s Observable Events, below).

Every morning then, during this Jupiter Morning Star’s period we could all look up into this bright disk and ‘see’ ourselves evolving and living brighter, more fulfilling lives. This exercise could prove especially rewarding for the Water Signs (Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces) and the Earth Signs (Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn).

 Venus will wear her beautiful evening gown until the end of October 2010. Our sister planet is becoming brighter in May, reaching a magnitude of -3.9. When so brilliant Venus is sometimes mistaken for a plane or UFO and can be observed even before sunset

The Evening Star’s incarnation of Venus represents a collective opportunity to become more self-reflective, acknowledging our contribution to any relationship issues we may be experiencing. The Goddess of Love is looking deeper into our hearts and show us the way to a less self-centred and more aware kind of loving, (see also Venus in Gemini  post).

At the start of the month of May, Venus will be on dark close to the Hyades cluster of  the Taurus Constellation, not far north of Aldebaran, the alpha star of the same. Venus will be easy to spot throughout the month, in the North-East from early evening, say 5 to 5.30 pm, if you have a clear, flat horizon, setting around 6.30 pm. An important astronomical event is be falling Venus on May 16, an occultation (planetary eclipse) by the Moon,  the first this year. Unfortunately the event will occur during day-light hours in Australia, while it will be observable from Thailand and Indonesia. The next occultations of Venus by the Moon will happen on September 11 and November 5 this year; the latter event will be observable from Western Australia.

 In May Retrograde Mercury will be lost in the twilight (its latest Inferior Conjunction with the Sun having occurred on April 28), until it will re-appear as Morning Star, very faintly at first, on May 31.

Mercury will turn Direct again on May 12. For the possible effects of the retro motion of Mercury in Taurus click here. And for general information on the phenomenon of Retrogradation please check this Tutorial.

 Mars, still transiting the Tropical or Seasonal Sign of Leo, will be entering the Constellation of Leo in May, leaving behind the Cancer Beehive, beautiful Star Cluster in the Constellation of Cancer. Mars’ light is diminishing this month. You can spot Mars in the evening in the North-West, low above the horizon,  reddish in colour, forming two imaginary lines: the first with the Stars Sirius, the Big Dog in the Constellation of Canis Major, at the heels of hunter Orion, and Procyon, the Little Dog in the Constellation of Canis Mino; and the second with Regulus, alpha Star of Leo, Saturn and Spica, alpha Star of Virgo Constellation.

On May 20 a conjunction of Mars to the waxing Crescent Moon will be observable in the North-West, after dark (see a picture of this conjunction in May’s Observable Events, below).

 Saturn will rise before sunset in May, and it will be easily visible between the Stars Regulus (Constellation Leo) and Spica (Constellation Virgo). By around 10 pm Saturn will be high in the sky. Like Mars, Saturn also is becoming dimmer this month, moving away from the Earth at an angle that will cause its rings to become thinner, reflecting less sunlight. Saturn will transit Virgo in retrogradation from April 8, re-entering Libra only in July. For an in-depth reading of the major transits of Saturn and others, for the present and near future, please visit 2010 Forecast page.

 Around May 6 the Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower will reach its peak. Eta is a Star in Aquarius and it is against the backdrop of this Constellation that the shower takes place. These meteors are remnants of Halley’s Comet, deposited as a stream of debris during one of its passes close to our planet. Between May 1 and 8 you can look East, after sunset, to spot those meteors. They in fact start appearing well before the rising of the Constellation of Aquarius that occur after midnight.


Information and pictures to make you better acquainted with your southern night sky

The different lighting of some of the pictures is due to the time the snapshots of the Planetarium were taken.


MAY 9: the waning Moon in the Tropical Sign of  Pisces will be conjunct Jupiter, event visible in the early eastern sky before sunrise. Uranus will be there also, invisible unless you are looking through a powerful telescope.

Below is a snapshot of this conjunction, looking toward the East around 5 am.

9 MAY Moon Jupiter  Uranus


MAY 16: the tiny Crescent Moon in the Sign of Gemini can be observed very close to Venus, in fact occulting Venus (but not for Australian and New Zealand’s viewers).

Below is a snapshot of this conjunction, looking toward the North-West, after sunset.


MAY 20: the waxing Crescent Moon will be visibly conjunct Mars, in the North-West after sunset.

Below is a snapshot of this event.


MAY 21: the First Quarter Moon, on the cusp Leo-Virgo, will be seen close to the Star Regulus, alpha of Leo Constellation. Mars will be in the picture too.

Below is a snapshot of this event, looking toward the North-West, before 9 pm.


MAY 24: the waxing Gibbous Moon in Libra will be seen conjunct Spica, the alpha Star of Virgo Constellation.

Below is a snapshot of this beautiful event, taken at around 6 pm, looking toward the East. Saturn is also in the picture.


MAY 28: the Full Moon in Sagittarius (Tropical Sign) can be seen conjunct Antares, alpha Star of Scorpio Constellation.

The snapshot below shows this conjunction and was taken looking toward the East, around 6 pm.

28 MAY FULL MOON ANTARES All the Sky Snapshots have been generated using Stellarium, a wonderful Planetarium freeware software.

Information for the Sky Events has been gathered from these web sites: