Both Mercury and Venus were recently on the opposite side of the Sun from the Earth at superior conjunction. Coming from that relative position both planets travel eastward until they reach a point with respect to the Sun that we see as the furthest apart, or the greatest angular separation between the Sun and Mercury or Venus. This happens on either side of the Sun and are known as elongations. Since both planets are on the east side of the Sun they are both heading toward eastern elongation. In the animated graphic above you can see all of Mercury’s orbit on the east side of the Sun including the part where Mercury reaches eastern elongation and heads back toward the Sun. Because Venus is further from the sun it has a longer orbital period around the sun and likewise a longer orbital path so Venus’s orbital path on the graphic extends past the edge.
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