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What Are Aspects and Orbs in Astrology?

What Are Aspects and Orbs in Astrology?

In astrology, we have four primary building blocks and all else is commentary. The four are the planets, the signs, the houses, and the aspects. Today we examine what aspects are, what an aspect orb is, and how wide or narrow they should be.

I’ve given you some of this material in the past, and this is a more comprehensive take on it. An aspect is an angular relationship between two planets or points on the 360 degree wheel. The aspect orb is how wide or narrow from the exact angle we go before it’s not that angle any more. There are many opinions about how wide from exact an angle can be, and today we’ll explore orbs and why I use the ones I do.


As noted, aspects are based in exact angles. We know a sextile is 60 degrees, a square is 90 degrees, a trine is 120 degrees, and an opposition is 180 degrees. There are many more aspects in various harmonic series which together give us a tapestry of points in various phase relationships with each other. Astrology allows a zone approaching and leaving the exact degree as being of great significance in understanding the range of influence of the aspect. They are called orbs.

An orb is the widest variation from the exact degree angle of any aspect between two planets or points in a chart. As an example, a square is 90 degrees, and the orb is how far from 90 degrees (closer or wider) two planets can be and still be in a square. Some astrologers are into very narrow orbs, most allow a moderate number of degrees for orbs, others use wide orbs, and Vedic astrology gets rid of orbs altogether (a serious problem in that astrological system, but we won’t discuss that here.)

Over my years of observing transits and aspects made between planets and to charts, I have come to see orbs as flexible, depending on specific circumstances. They are variable in their width from exact, as sometimes a very wide orb is warranted, and other times they should be narrower. It’s fairly standard practice to give wider orbs to aspects made by the Sun and Moon, and slightly narrower ones made by the planets.

Orbs Show Us the Maximum Zones of the Phase Relationship

It is useful to look at aspects as showing us a specific zone in the “phase relationship” in the dance between two planets as they move from the conjunction to the opposition and then mirror all those aspects as the cycle returns to the next conjunction. As the planets move in their relationship with each other, the lengths of the phases from when they first form to when they’re exact to when they are separating are influenced by many variables, including where in the sign each planet is, if any other planets are near, and whether they make aspects to other planets.

I allow wider orbs because to me, an aspect shows us which phase of the dance between two planets is happening, with the orbs indicating the entry and exit points in that phase. They are the outer limits of that particular way those two planets are relating to each other. The orb indicates the very beginnings of a specific phase relationship which grows stronger until it become perfect at the exact angle of the aspect, as well as the length of the period when the phase relationship is still active but passing out of that phase and moving into the next aspect phase within “the Whole Cycle.”

So my approach is that all aspects involve approaching energy, exact energy, and energy that is in the past but still present, because of its effects. The “orb of influence” lets us know when something is coming, something is here, or something is leaving. We are told that even the number of degrees and aspect is forming or separating has its own unique quality, so that a 3 degree forming trine has a much different energy than a 5 degree separating trine. A 73 degree quintile is different than a 76 degree quintile. An 88 degree square is different than an 84 degree square. Close observation of these sorts of distinctions yielded countless insights when I applied them to forming and separating transiting aspects.

As I noted earlier, a very important factor affecting the width of an orb is the presence of other planets making aspects to either of the two planets in aspect. An example of this is that two planets can have separated from an aspect, but if a third planet makes aspects to the ones in separating aspect, it renews the energy of the aspect as “translated” by the third planet. Variations of this are called “Translation of Light” and “Collection of Light” in the old texts as important delineation factors, especially in Horary, Electional, and Medical astrology. Of course the principles can be extended to progressed and transiting aspects made to our natal charts.

The Orbs I Use for the Planets and Aspects

In natal charts, as a general rule I use an orb of 10-13 degrees for a conjunction or opposition involving the Sun and Moon, with the exact number depending on the variables stated earlier. For all the other planets, I use an orb of 8-12 degrees for conjunctions and oppositions. For squares and trines, I give all the planets an orb of 7-8 degrees, sextiles get an orb of 6-7 degrees, and quintiles an orb of 4-5 degrees.

Semisquares and sesquisquares get an orb of 3-4 degrees, and all other aspects, including quincunxes, 2-3 degrees at most. That means a decile is 34-38 degrees, a tredecile is 106-110, a biquintile is 142-146, and so forth. I almost never give orbs larger than 2 degrees, and frequently as narrow as a degree and a half, for the 7th, 9th, 11th, and other “minor” harmonics, since over the years I’ve found between 1.5 and 2 degrees to be the zone of maximum intensity for any aspect, whether forming or separating.

All aspects will have variances which yield different degree values. One factor is whether the planets in aspect are in signs which are naturally in biquintile or quincunx, or not. There is a huge difference between a quincunx between Aries and Leo, Aries and Virgo, Scorpio and Aries, and Sagittarius and Aries, for example. A trine between planets in similar elements is stronger in its nature than a trine between planets in signs that are not naturally in trine. A trine from 12 Aries to 18 Leo is far stronger than a trine from 28 Virgo to 4 Aquarius.

Here natural sign relationships are also a factor, since Virgo and Aquarius are in a natural quincunx relationship because they are 5 signs apart. That “adjustment” energy will be in play even if we have a trine from late Virgo to early Aquarius, or late Aquarius to early Cancer. Planets in opposing signs often work in an oppositional way, even if they're too wide to be in an actual opposition. There are also special circumstances where a planet may be out of range of an opposition, but brought back into opposition via something like translation of light as explained earlier.

A Degree of Distinction

One argument against orbs that are too wide is some of them create overlapping orbs with other aspects. A quincunx is 150 degrees, a triseptile is 154+ degrees. Perhaps a 152+ forming quincunx may share some blended influence with the 152+ triseptile, such as an adjustment and/or sacrifice related to some cooperative or collective inner or outer activity. While many speculations can be formed, this is slicing fine nuances in phase relationships with no real research.

Pretty much everyone agrees that very closely defined orbs are the area of activation, especially when it comes to primary directions, solar arc measurements, and other similar evaluative techniques. A long time ago I learned that the area of active influence was 1.5 degrees forming or separating for transits, and over the decades I've found that to be spot on.

When it comes to interrelationships between several planets in a configuration, like a Yod or T-square or several points in a Great Sextile, Septile, Quintile, etc., the more exact the aspects in that configuration are, the tighter it will trigger in space-time. We can also have "loose" configurations, where things aren't exact, but they trigger first one planet, then another, then another. The firing sequence may not be exact at the same time, but the sequence is triggered in an order depending on the degrees of the planets in the configuration. This “firing sequence" is all important in determining which aspect(s) are triggered first, second, and so forth.

An Example of Orbs – How I Compute Them

As I mentioned earlier, some of the most important variables in how I compute aspect orbs are what signs the two planets occupy in the natal chart and whether the aspect between them is forming or separating. This is where progressions make a huge difference. I’ll give you an example from my own chart.

I have a natal Sun at 12 Aries, a natal Jupiter at 26 Pisces, and a natal Saturn at 29 Virgo. While it might seem that my Sun is too wide to be conjunct Jupiter at 16 degrees, and barely in orb to be in a 13 degree out of sign opposition to Saturn, there are two factors that indicate my Sun-Jupiter works as a conjunction.

First, my life history definitely has demonstrated that I have a Sun opposition Saturn. That pulls Jupiter into the mix, since there is no question that Jupiter is opposed Saturn. The second major factor is that my natal Jupiter is at perihelion, and progresses very quickly throughout my life. It entered Aries when I was young, and now approaches my Sun.

That means by progression, Jupiter conjuncts my Sun throughout my life, since it keeps getting closer and closer to my Sun. However, since my Saturn is retrograde, it pulled away from the opposition by progression, and ultimately progressed to a pentelftile (163+ degrees). So by progression my Jupiter draws closer to a conjunction with my Sun and Saturn moves away from the opposition to the Sun, progressing (in retrograde motion) back to an exact opposition to my Jupiter at age 57, where it went stationary direct in my progressed chart at 26 Virgo.

Another very important consideration is if there is a stellium of three or more planets in one sign or two in one sign and another close in the next sign. In a three planet stellium, the middle planet(s) “gathers the light” of the two outermost planets in the stellium. It works like a three note chord, with the middle planet anchoring the tone and the outer two operating as a harmonic third and fifth. Here’s another example from my chart.

I have a Sun at 12 Aries, a Mars at 24 Aries, and a Mercury conjunct MC at 30 Aries. Ordinarily Mercury would be way too far out of orb of a conjunction to my Sun. However, in this case three factors play a role here.

The first is that all of those planets are in the same sign. That creates a powerful resonance between them and all the midpoints created by those three planets. It activates 12, 18, 21, 24, 27 and 30 Aries. Second, it’s clear that I have a Sun conjunct Mars, as well as a Mercury conjunct Mars. This is an example of Mars pulling together two other planetary energies that ordinarily wouldn’t work as a conjunction. And third, both the Sun and Mars progress to conjunctions to my Mercury. That strengthens the “Sun-Mars-Mercury” chord of Aries energies.

I’ll close by reminding you that none of this is engraved in stone, and the best way to know what works is to look at when transiting aspects begin to form on your natal planets, see what comes forth during the time the aspect is its tightest orb, and then see how long the energy lingers after the separating hot zone of maximum influence. Sometimes aspects happen and nothing seems to happen; those are opportunities to see how other aspects may have created their own specialized field of influence apart from whatever was expected by the original transiting aspect.

Sometimes what we think should produce a measurable effect doesn’t do that at all, while other times things happen which require us to take a broader view of the different factors in play. A trine can accompany difficulty, while a square can bring powerful positive actions. An opposition might be an awareness, but can also mean we’re bringing something to the surface through the transiting planet opposing our natal planet.

Our charts are living time machines, and throughout our lives give us information about where we have phase shifts approaching, phase shifts happening, and phase shifts in the past. All the planetary aspects show time triggers appropriate to the quality of those aspects, a series of pulses between all the energies within us and how we are in harmony or friction with the forces external to us.

By taking a wide view of orbs with a greater understanding of what each aspect phase means as one gives way to the next in the Whole Cycle, we can see various influences beginning to manifest before an actual event or decision, and observe how that phase of those two planets is showing us something. Then as see how each phase builds on past experience, we can see our evolving process and change our planetary responses as needed.

Reprinted on with written permission from Robert Wilkinson. Copying this article to other blogs is strictly prohibited. It is copyright protected. 


© Copyright 2020 Robert Wilkinson -

About the author:

Robert wilkinson An internationally-known astrologer, author, public speaker, metaphysician, and futurist, with over 25 years experience as a counselor and educator. He has presented hundreds of public talks on all aspects of Astrology, the Eastern Wisdom tradition, the Western Wisdom tradition and promoted many mass gatherings and cultural events. Some of his specific areas of interest and expertise include personality profiles, degree patterns, integrative astrology, various aspect harmonics, among others.
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Reprinted on crystalwind.cawith persmission from Robert Wilkinson.

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