Q&A with Joy: Determining Planetary Speed

Estimated Reading Time: 7 minutes

OK, I totally admit it. This is my question. I searched everywhere and asked some pretty knowledgeable people and didn’t get an answer that helped, so I had to figure it out myself. Once I figured out the answer, I could see that maybe it is obvious to everyone else, so that’s why it’s not out there. But it wasn’t obvious to me, and so I’m guessing there are other people on the planet who also have this same question. So I’m sharing the answer I found.

Here’s the question:

If you’ve ever studied accidental dignity in astrology, you’ve come across the idea that planets moving faster than normal have increased dignity and planets moving slower than usual are debilitated. But how the heck do you know how fast a planet is moving? When I first came across this, I mentally filed it under “check this out later.” It came up again more recently when I heard someone speak on accidental dignity but didn’t address this topic other than to say that professional astrological software included the info. Then last week I put together a class on essential and accidental dignity and finally had to figure this out!

I understood that planets slow down before going retrograde, and then speed back up to almost full speed during the retrograde, then slow down again when changing direction to forward motion. So clearly, during the time before, during, and after retrogrades are generally times of slower than average movement. But while astrological charts indicate retrogrades, which in and of themselves are considered accidental debility, they don’t indicate if something is about to go retrograde or has recently come out of retrograde. And anyway, I didn’t know if there were also other things that affected speed.

So my question was, how can I tell if a planet is going faster than average or slower than average on any given day, reflected in any given chart? (Without spending several hundred dollars on professional software!)

Here’s the answer I found:

First, I needed to learn the average daily speeds of the planets. I had come across that info many times before and was able to find it again pretty easily. Here’s that basic info:

Planetary Speed per Day

  1. Saturn – 2 minutes 1 second (0.0336 degrees)
  2. Jupiter – 4 minutes 59 seconds (0.0831 degrees)
  3. Mars – 31 minutes 27 second (0.5242 degrees)
  4. Sun – 59 minutes 8 seconds (0.9856 degrees)
  5. Venus – 59 minutes 8 seconds (0.9856 degrees) [Mean daily speed: 1 degree 12 minutes / 1.2 degrees (preferred number to use)]
  6. Mercury – 59 minutes 8 seconds (0.9856 degrees) [Mean daily speed: 1 degree 23 minutes / 1.3833 degrees (preferred number to use)]
  7. Moon – 13 degrees, 10 minutes, 36 seconds (13.1767 degrees)

This info is based on how long it takes the planet to make a full cycle around the zodiac from a geocentric viewpoint (not how long they take to go around the Sun, for those who were thinking of orbital periods or planetary years), and then averaged per day. For Venus and Mercury, the fact that they stay close to the Sun means they circle the zodiac in the same amount of time as the Sun, giving them the same rate of progression through the zodiac (they make one complete circle of the zodiac in the same time it takes the Sun to make a complete circle). However, determining their daily speed means averaging out faster-than-the-Sun speeds with slower retrograde periods, while the Sun moves forward at a steady pace (these planets zip past the Sun, then slow down and go backwards, then run ahead again, like two dogs on retractable leashes–they move faster than the Sun at times, and slower at times, averaging out to be slightly faster). So it is more accurate to say that the mean daily speed is higher than their rate of progression through the zodiac. See this discussion for clarification.

Planetary Speed Calculator

Now I needed to figure out how fast the planet is moving on a date in question. I wanted there to be a chart or free calculator, and finally found one. This calculator provides the speed of the planets on a particular day. It doesn’t tell you if they are faster or slower than normal though, so they have to be compared to the list above for that determination. Also, all the planetary speed lists I found were in degree, minute (‘) and second (“), whereas the calculator listed the speeds in decimal degrees. Thank goodness I had a great primary school education and knew how to convert the degrees/minutes/seconds to decimals! I did so for you in the list above.

Using an Ephemeris

American Ephemeris

Then I finally realized what was probably obvious to all the other astrologers. If I found the day in question in an ephemeris, I could calculate the speed pretty easily. An ephemeris is a table that provides the locations for the planets and often other bodies, such as some of the asteroids, for each day at a particular time (usually midnight UT). My Llewellyn Daily Planner has an ephemeris for the current year in the back, and most astrologers find it indispensable to have a 20th century ephemeris (and now 21st century too), that lists the data for every day of every year of the last or current century. Also, it is easy to find the ephemeris for any given year online: I use the ones linked to here.

To find your speed, all you have to do is subtract the position of the planet (in degrees and minutes) on one day from the position of that planet on the previous day, and you’ll know how far it traveled. Compare the result to the list of daily speeds and you’ll know if the planet is moving faster than normal or slower. I thought this would be a difficult calculation until I tried it and realized it’s pretty easy to estimate. All I wanted to know was “faster” or “slower,” not the exact speed, so a quick mental estimate was good enough for my purposes.

Of course, if you’re really into accidental dignities in general or planetary speed in particular and don’t like doing math, the solution is to use professional astrological software, like Solar Fire, that has this functionality built in. I read that AstroWin, a freeware option, has this info included, but I haven’t used the software myself. I use Astro.com online and I haven’t found the planetary speeds listed anywhere.

Oddly, as soon as I learned this I had an opportunity to put it to work. At the end of a client session this week the client described how his birth had been a difficult breech birth, the cord had been wrapped around his neck, and his brain had been starved of oxygen. He appeared to be developmentally disabled for the first several years of his life, but then things improved and he didn’t have any further problems. Now, as an adult approaching retirement, he wanted to know if he had been permanently brain damaged. Yes, readers get some odd questions! I didn’t have a clue how to answer that particular question. But in all my research I discovered that a fast moving Mercury is considered a sign of intelligence. So I looked him up in my handy-dandy ephemeris sitting on a nearby shelf, and did a quick mental calculation, and determined that Mercury had moved 1 degree and roughly 50 minutes, making it considerably faster than the mean daily speed. So I could tell him that he was innately very intelligent, which seemed to satisfy him.

I hope you enjoy this information and find it helpful in your study of accidental dignities!


If you want to ask a question about any tarot, astrology, or Reiki technique or metaphysical philosophy, please feel free to ask it in the comments! You just might see an answer from me in the very near future!


Joy Vernon has been studying and teaching energetic and esoteric modalities for more than twenty years. She is the organizer of the Denver Tarot Geeks, Denver Tarot Meetup and Denver Traditional Reiki Meetup, and she served on the faculty of Avalon Center for Druidic Studies. She is one of the psychics at Isis Books and is a Certified Professional Tarot Reader and a member of the American Tarot Association and Tarosophy Tarot Association. Joy also teaches Traditional Japanese Reiki. For information on upcoming classes or to schedule an appointment, please visit JoyVernon.com.

© 2016 by Joy Vernon. All rights reserved.

Joy Vernon
Joy Vernon

Joy Vernon is widely recognized as an expert tarot teacher and respected community leader. With over twenty-five years’ experience teaching energetic and esoteric modalities, Joy brings expertise and practiced familiarity to her specialty of esoteric tarot, which layers astrological and qabalistic symbolism onto the traditional tarot structure. Under her leadership, the Denver Tarot Meetup grew into one of the largest and most active tarot-specific meetups in the world. Now Joy runs the Greater Seattle Tarot Meetup. Joy works as a tarot reader, astrologer, and teacher in Burien, Washington. To learn more, please visit JoyVernon.com.

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