Astronomy Essentials

The 5 petals of Venus and its 8-year cycle

Petals of Venus: Overlapping lines surrounding Earth, with 5 interior loops pointing toward Earth and 12 positions of the sun.
This illustration shows what’s called the 5 petals of Venus. It shows a simplified geocentric – Earth-centered – plot of the orbit of Venus over 8 years, from 2016 to 2023. Image and article via Guy Ottewell.

Guy Ottewell originally published this article as a blog post at his website, Universal Workshop. Reprinted here with permission.

What is the pentagram or petals of Venus?

When plotted geocentrically – from an Earth-centered perspective – there is a highly noticeable rhythm in the motion of Venus. After eight years, it returns to the same place in our sky on about the same date. This is known as the eight-year cycle of Venus, and stems from the fact that 13 Venusian orbits (13 x 224.8 days) very nearly equals eight Earth years. As a matter of fact, the cycle was known to, and of great interest to, ancient peoples such as the Maya. Today, many know it as the pentagram or petals of Venus.

The word pentagram – or five-sided figure – is because, over the eight years, each phenomenon – each relative position of Earth, Venus, and the sun – occurs five times. Then, over the next eight years, they repeat five times almost identically.

For Venus, the tight inward loops on the diagram above and animation below are the planet’s inferior conjunctions, in which Venus passes between us and the sun. And the wide swings are centered on the superior conjunctions, when Venus passes around the far side of the sun from us. So the general pattern is (as Anthony Barreiro commented):

… a lovely five-petalled rose.

So the tight loops are the stamens of the rose, and the wide swings are the petals.

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Visualizing the petals of Venus

Below is an animation, showing the same thing … the orbit of Venus from an Earth-centered perspective. The smaller pale yellow dot is Venus, and the larger yellow ball is the sun.

When I tried to plot a geocentric picture over eight years (2016-2023) to show the complete rose, it was bewilderingly cluttered. In fact. it had five overlapping tracks, eight-times-twelve little Venus globes at monthly intervals – already too much without the ecliptic-plane grid and other details.

So the image at the top of this post is a more simplified version: still calculated in three dimensions, but by moving the viewpoint to the north ecliptic pole, it becomes a flat plan of Venus’ path.

Earth is in the middle; the vernal-equinox direction is to the right; the yellow spots are the sun at the beginning of each month.

The rest is the rhythmic motions of Venus.

You’ll still have trouble deciphering which part of the track is for which year (on the image at top, I’ve used white, cyan, magenta, yellow for 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and again for 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023) but it doesn’t matter greatly. You can see the five inferior conjunctions, in their five directions.

The Pentagram of Venus

If you trace across the circle from each loop to the next, you see that they are not adjacent to each other but 2/5 of the way around, like the five points of a pentagram.

A large five-pointed star, or pentagram.
A pentagram. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Past and future inferior conjunctions of Venus

The directions of the five inferior conjunctions of Venus determine their differing characters, by determining their places in Venus’ true (heliocentric) orbit, which is tilted and slightly elliptical.

Mar 25, 2017: is in Pisces; Venus passes 8 degrees north of the sun; distance from us 0.28 AU (astronomical units, aka sun-Earth distances); diameter of Venus’ (mostly dark) disk 60″ (arcseconds).
Oct 26, 2018: is in Virgo; 6 degrees south of the sun; 0.27 AU; 62″.
Jun 3, 2020: is in Taurus; 0.5 degree north of the sun; 0.29 AU; 58″.
Jan 9, 2022: is in Sagittarius; 5 degrees north of the sun; 0.27 AU; 63″.
Aug 13, 2023: is at the Cancer-Leo-Hydra border; 7 degrees south of the sun; 0.29 AU; 58″.

By the way, you can currently enjoy seeing brilliant Venus in the west for a few hours after sunset. It’s presently near the planet Saturn. And next month it will be near the planet Jupiter.

Bottom line: Learn about the eight-year cycle of Venus in our sky and the petals of Venus, a rhythmic motion of Venus when viewed from an Earth-centered perspective.

January 22, 2023
Astronomy Essentials

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