Planets are retrograde when from our perspective on Earth they look to be going backward. They are not actually going backward but the planet’s position in relation to the positions of the Sun and Earth means that sometimes they seem to be going in reverse motion.

If you look at the animation below you can see on the left that Earth (blue dot) and Mars (red dot) are both in forward motion at all times. As we are looking at things from our perspective on Earth though, we see things more like the on the right. The loop in the diagram represents the retrograde motion of the planet. As this is a superior planet (Mars) the retrograde happens at the time of the opposition to the Sun.

gif and retrograde planets image
The yellow dot is the Sun, the blue dot is Earth and the red dot is Mars. Not exact motion but an approximation.user:cleonis in the English Wikipedia, Apparent retrograde motion, CC BY-SA 2.5

There are two types of retrograde planets, the inferior and superior planets.

Retrograde Inferior Planets

Mercury and Venus

Mercury and Venus are both closer to the Sun than Earth and as such are called inferior planets. As they are so close to the Sun, we do not notice them in the sky unless they are at their most eastern or western elongation (distance from the Sun).

When they are at their most eastern elongation Mercury or Venus appear as the evening star, just after the Sun sets. At their most western elongation, they are the morning star, appearing ahead of the rising Sun.

Just before reaching their eastern elongation, Mercury and Venus appear to slow down and will soon station (come to a stop) and reverse (retrograde) their direction. This is called the station retrograde.

Image by Scullywag Astrology
Mercury and Venus are in their retrograde phases when in the area shaded in purple. NASA, Planet Conjunction, Color of the diagram, CC0 1.0

About midway through the retrograde period, Mercury or Venus will have their inferior conjunction with the Sun. The planet will continue on toward its most western elongation and a short while before it reaches that it will start to station (slow down and stop) and appear to resume forward motion (direct). This is called the station direct.

How often and what to expect

Mercury orbits the Sun in about 88 days compared to our 365.25 days. Venus orbits the Sun in about 225 days. When an inferior planet (Mercury or Venus) catches up to and passes the Earth, a retrograde occurs.

Mercury is retrograde about 3 times in a 13 months period. Mercury catches up to and passes Earth about every 116 days. Mercury is retrograde for about 22 days each time which means it is retrograde for about 20% of its cycle.

When Mercury is retrograde there is a tendency for mix-ups and delays. This is a time when it is good to go over old ground, to review, re-edit, re-do, re-think, and re-organize. It is a good time to process and go over what has happened in the previous 3 months.

Venus is retrograde about once every 18 months. It takes approximately 584 days for Venus to catch up to and pass Earth. Venus is retrograde for about 42 days each time, making it retrograde for about 7% of its cycle.

When Venus is retrograde we are likely to be reviewing our relationships and values.

Retrograde Superior Planets

Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune & Pluto

The superior planets are those that are further from the Sun than Earth. Therefore, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Pluto are the superior planets.

As the superior planets take longer to orbit the Sun than Earth, we eventually catch up and pass them about once a year. When this happens, the planet seems to slow down, stop and reverse its direction (station retrograde).

Superior planets don’t have inferior and superior conjunctions like the inferior planets. The superior planets have a conjunction to the Sun (superior conjunction for the inferior planets) and an opposition of the Sun (inferior conjunction for the inferior planets).

An inferior planet is retrograde when it is at its leading up to, during and leaving its inferior conjunction to the Sun (with the inferior planet between the Sun and Earth). A superior planet is retrograde when it is leading up to, during and leaving its opposition to the Sun (with Earth being between the Sun and the superior planet).

Image by Scullywag Astrology
Wmheric, Positional astronomy, Changed inner to inferior and outer to superior, CC BY-SA 3.0

The Sun squares the superior planets when they reach the eastern and western quadrature.

It is about the time of the square from the Sun at the eastern quadrature that the Earth is catching up to the superior planet.

Not long after the square from the Sun at the eastern quadrature, the superior planet starts to slow down and stop and change its direction (station retrograde). This is because the Earth has caught up to and is passing the superior planet.

At the time of the Sun opposition to the retrograde superior planet, Earth is between the Sun and the superior planet. The superior planet will only be moving at about 66% of the speed it would at its conjunction with the Sun, but is moving as fast as it will get during its retrograde phase.

The Sun will later go on to trine the superior planet and it will slow down, stop and seem to change to direct motion (station direct). The square from the Sun at the western quadrature occurs not long after the station direct.

How often and what to expect

Mars orbits the Sun every 687 days. Mars is retrograde about every 26 months for about 60 to 80 days. This means that Mars is retrograde about 9% of its cycle.

When Mars is transiting retrograde we are evaluating our power, drive, energy, and assertiveness.

Jupiter orbits the Sun every 12 years. Jupiter is retrograde about every 13 months for about 4 months. This means that Jupiter is retrograde about 30% of its cycle.

When Jupiter is transiting retrograde we are reviewing our personal moral compass, particularly in regard to the affairs of the natal house that Jupiter is retrograding in.

Saturn orbits the Sun every 29 and a half years. Saturn is retrograde about every 12 and a half months for about 4 and a half months. This means that Saturn is retrograde for about 36% of its cycle.

When Saturn is transiting retrograde we are evaluating authority figures, limits, and our role in society.

Uranus orbits the Sun every 84 years. Uranus is retrograde about every 12 months for close to 5 months. This means that Uranus is retrograde for about 41% of its cycle.

Neptune orbits that Sun every 165 years. Neptune is retrograde about every 12 months for approximately 5 months. This means that Neptune is retrograde for about 43% of its cycle.

Pluto orbits the earth every 248 years. Pluto is retrograde about every 12 months for about 5 to 6 months. This means that Pluto is retrograde for about 44% of its cycle.

Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto have such slow orbits and are retrograde for such long periods of time that the effects tend to be felt on a collective level by all of society. The degree that the planet is moving backward and forward over may be a significant one in your natal chart and will have some significance there.

astrology, planets, and retrograde planets image