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Venus Retrograde & Transit of the Sun

Written: November 2011
Published: 19th December 2011

In this article we'll be discussing some astronomy as well as some astrology. The topic is Venus: its forthcoming retrograde period, its rare transit of the sun, and how it's well placed for easy observation over the next few months and beyond.

Venus transit of the Sun

Next year quite a unique event occurs in the sky: a Venus transit of the kind we last experienced in 2004 but won't experience again until 2117. Before 2004 the last time there was a transit of Venus was in 1882. This is a slightly different use of the word 'transit' from how it's normally used in astrology. Although the astronomical use differs slightly from the astrological use they are the same in their essential meaning. Transit is at root a Latin word, not an originally English one: if in the English language we used translated technical terms of astronomy and astrology we'd be using a word like 'crossing', the meaning of which is more obvious. A transit is just a crossing, a moving of one thing in the sky across another, and that root meaning applies in both astronomy and astrology.

Venus moving across the Sun's disc
Venus crossing the Sun's disc

Astronomically it means that, as seen from Earth, the disc of Venus will move across the disc of the Sun, in much the same way as during a solar eclipse the disc of the moon moves across the disc of the Sun, though of course the disc of Venus is tiny in comparison and can't eclipse the Sun's light. Astronomers in the past used these events to refine their measurement of the Earth's distance from the Sun, known as an Astronomical Unit. The astronomers of modern times don't need to do that anymore, but they still use this type of transit to do studies as well as to promote science education. The fact that Venus has an atmosphere was discovered by a Russian astronomer during a transit of Venus that took place in 1761. Finding exoplanets and analysing their atmospheres is helped because the transit method of detection and the results it produces can be practised and learnt from within our own solar system.

Aside from the astronomical spectacle, this is astrologically significant, partly because it means that Venus is retrograde. Venus moves backwards only once every 18 months, so it stands out more than, for instance, Mercury retrograde - Mercury turns back 3, sometimes 4 times every year, so it's a movement that we're familiar with and fairly used to.

The Venus transit happens in June 2012, but the observational, astronomical fun stars way before then, because in the lead up to Christmas and into the new year Venus is becoming incredibly well placed for viewing in the evening sky, so if you or any children you know want to see it, this really is one of the best times. And if you're in a country that's located at a moderately northern latitude then things are even better, because in spring 2012 Venus will be visible even at midnight, which is a fairly infrequent treat, happening in 8 year cycles.

Observing Venus in the night sky

When is the best time to view Venus?

The best time to see Venus is when appears in the sky to be furthest away from the Sun, because when it's too close the Sun's rays obscure it. When Venus reaches its furthest separation it's called its greatest elongation. There are two of these in 2012, the first being on the 27th of March. At this time Venus will be an 'evening star', which means that it's visible in the sky at dusk, towards the part of the western horizon where the Sun sets at your location. Because it's in the evening sky most people will find it easier to spot - it means you don't have to be up early in the morning - and because Venus will be relatively high it will stay visible for a significant chunk of time, and that's what makes this such a good time to see it. In fact, unless you live surrounded by hills, tall buildings or similar, it'll probably be difficult not to see it. Aside from the Sun and the Moon, Venus is the brightest natural object in the sky.

Venus - 27th March 2012 - Greatest Eastern Elongation
Venus near the western horizon after sunset on
27th March 2012 - see below for Zodiac wheel view

Venus - 27th March 2012 - Greatest Eastern Elongation
Venus at its Greatest Eastern Elongation from the Sun on 27th March 2012 - Venus and the Sun are at their furthest distance apart before Venus turns retrograde and moves back towards the Sun

Later in the year Venus will no longer be an evening star; it shifts from being visible in the evening sky to being visible in the morning sky in June, and spends the rest of the year being a 'morning star'. During this phase it reaches its greatest elongation on the 15th of August, and once again will be visible for long enough to be easily observed at the start of the day.

Key dates

Here is the sequence of astronomical and astrological key dates:-

NB All dates are in GMT, i.e. Greenwich Mean Time, which is the time at the zero meridian of Longitude (the world's reference point from which all time zones are measured).
  • During December 2011 Venus becomes increasingly well placed for viewing around dusk.
  • During the first months of 2012 Venus lengthens away from the Sun, appearing more and more separate from it, thus making it easier to spot Venus in the evening twilight and after dark.
  • On the 27th of March Venus reaches its greatest elongation, known technically as its greatest eastern elongation. At this particular elongation Venus is 46 degrees ahead of the Sun, as measured on the Zodiac circle.
  • On the 15th of May Venus stations at 24 degrees Gemini, and turns retrograde for 6 weeks.
  • Around the 25th of May Venus goes 'under the Sun's beams', or under sunbeams - a traditional astrological term for when a planet is within 17 degrees* of a conjunction with the Sun.
  • On the 31st of May Venus becomes combust, which is from the Latin for 'burned'. Again, this is a traditional astrological term, for when a planet is within 8 and a half degrees* of a conjunction with the Sun.
  • On the 5th to the 6th of June Venus transits the Sun. This is the conjunction of the Sun and Venus, known traditionally as cazimi, a traditional astrological word meaning that Venus is now located right in the heart of the Sun. This is the middle of the retrograde phase. It takes place at 15 degrees 45 minutes Gemini.
  • On the 11th of June Venus leaves combustion.
  • On the 17th of June Venus emerges from being under the Sun's beams.
  • On the 27th of June Venus stations again, turning direct, at 7-and-a-half degrees Gemini.
  • During August and September Venus is well placed for viewing in the morning skies, in the hours before sunrise.
  • On the 15th of August Venus reaches its greatest western elongation, separated again by 46 degrees, measured on the Zodiac circle.
  • During October and November Venus begins to be less well-placed for observing, until it once again disappears from view towards the end of the year.
* NB Different ancient authors disagreed about exactly how many degrees away from the Sun a planet had to be in order to be classed as under the Sun's beams or burnt (combust).

An astrological view

From an astrological point of view, what is this all about?

On a personal level, if you have a planet or house cusp in the middle or late degrees of Gemini, especially if it is at or very close to 24 degrees, then the Venus station on the 15th of May is very likely to be noticeable in your psyche and/or your life -- all the more so if the planet is an inner planet, or the house cusp is the Ascendant or Midheaven. If you have a planet or house cusp that Venus will cross when it goes backwards in the 6 weeks after that date, you might find that what occurs is a weaving together of 3 dates: the direct first crossing, the retrograde 2nd crossing, and the direct 3rd and final crossing. The dates will depend on exactly which degree of Gemini your natal planet or cusp is placed at. The themes involved depend on which of your planets and which house or houses are involved. If you're not sure, you'll need to seek the services of a competent astrologer to work it out for you and discuss its implications.
Venus - Stationary Retrograde - Zodiac view
Venus stations in Gemini on the 15th of May 2012
and turns backwards

If you haven't got a planet or house cusp between 24 and 7 degrees Gemini, but you have got one in the same degrees of Sagittarius, much the same applies, i.e. you're very likely to feel something occurring that correlates with the retrograde movement of Venus. If you have planets or cusps in Virgo or Pisces you could well feel it too. If you have planets or cusps in other signs but placed between these degrees, it's possible that you'll notice the transit of Venus, but not particularly strongly, and maybe even not at all; other transits going on in your chart are likely to be more noticeable to you.

If your chart seems like it is going to resonate with this retrograde phase of Venus, it's likely that you'll undertake a process of review regarding your social connections and their quality in relation to whatever area or areas of life your natal planet and house indicate. How you link up with people and how you disconnect from people could come to the fore and you might find yourself wanting or needing to make some adjustments to re-align with your core values. Because Venus will be going backwards through Gemini, there is an emphasis on seeing different points of view, taking in different kinds of information, stepping into other people's shoes, being willing to adapt.

Venus's Direct-Retrograde-Direct path in the night sky
The path of Venus's Direct-Retrograde-Direct movement in the night sky from April to August 2012.
Venus moves backwards in the constellation of Taurus - but the Tropical Zodiac Sign of Gemini - tracing an S-shape in the horns of the Bull

A retrograde Venus is a Venus that is more earthy, more grounded, less refined and, at its most extreme, more base. Venus is physically closer to the Earth during this part of its cycle and so it aspires to less lofty ideals of harmony. Venus here is more blood and guts, but perhaps also more fertile, and more down-to-earth in a psychological sense. There is an emphasis on and perhaps a crisis in situations where there is disharmony, disagreement, disliking, where things don't quite match up or don't tally. Consequently the time when Venus emerges from the other side of the Sun can be a time of open conflict - the swords are unsheathed and the armies are marching, intent on victory. Whether the armies are right and righteous or not is another matter.

Venus - Stationary Direct - Zodiac view
Still in Gemini, Venus stations and turns forwards again
on the 27th of June 2012

The Gemini element of communication could take the form of disputation, arguments over being wrongly informed, contractual disputes, people being fickle and self-centredly shifting positions in irrational ways that introduce squabbling as everyone else is forced to adjust accordingly. Two-facedness could be a heightened issue, or merely an innocent duality of investments.

Information problems or transmission problems could bring previously tolerated interpersonal conflicts out into the open. In terms of global issues this points to things like international diplomatic relations, trade wars, and problems with binding treaties. A new accommodation of everyone's vested interests needs to be actively sought and found whilst maintaining non-violence, including if possible non-violent communication - uniting people through violence is not the best use of the strong drive for unity and concord that is present during this phase of the cycle, nor is the drive to unite people under authoritarianism. The collective mood to unite and pull people together needs to be healthy, and carefully handled.

Either way, the results of this time feed forward through the rest of the cycle of Venus until it reaches its next conjunction, travelling in direct motion this time, in March 2013. 

Related links:

Tons of data about various transits of Venus, including where they're visible from, lots of diagrams, and so on - HM Nautical Almanac Office

Useful general information page on the forthcoming transit of Venus

Another useful general information page

Documentary film project on 'our last transit of Venus'

NASA pages on the transit of Venus

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