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The following is some basic, ABC information on aspects.

What is an Aspect?

An aspect exists between two planets when the angular distance between them is within a certain range, or orb, of closeness to certain numerical values.  The most traditionally important aspects are formed when two planets are close to 0, 60, 90, 120, or 180 degrees apart. I've also listed the 150 degree aspect below.

Why Look at Aspects?

Aspects are an absolutely crucial requisite for any thorough understanding of a birth chart.  Without aspects one could not fully understand the workings of a planet.  There are typically three ways to understand how a planet will operate.  Take the example of Venus in Pisces in the 3rd House conjunct Saturn, square Pluto, and opposite Jupiter.  We can understand this Venus better:

  1) By its sign.  It is in Pisces.
  2) By its house.  Since this Venus is in the 3rd House, it is roughly similar to Venus in Gemini.
- and most importantly -
  3) By its aspects.  Venus in aspect to Saturn, Pluto, and Jupiter is very roughly similar to Venus in Capricorn, Scorpio, and Sagittarius.

In general, the aspects a planet makes are more important than a planet's sign or house placement.  Aspects are inherently more dynamic than sign or house placements.  A planet's sign or house placement is a relatively isolated factor.  But, an aspect depends on the relationship between two planets.  In truth, there is a somewhat dynamic relationship within a single planet's sign or house placement because even this is a combination two different things: either a planet and a sign, or a planet and a house.  But an aspect combines a planet in a sign and in a house with another planet in a sign and in a house. 

Another way to say this is to say that an aspect describes the relationship between two gods (within a person's psyche).  And knowing the story behind the friendship or difficulty between two gods is more much exciting than knowing the clothes a god is wearing (what sign a planet is in) or where a god likes to hang out (what house a planet is in).

Aspects are Very, Very, Very Important

A close aspect can be more defining than a sign and house placement.
  i.e. Someone with the Sun in Libra conjunct Neptune and the Moon in Virgo conjunct Pluto could practically say, "My Sun is in Pisces and my Moon is in Scorpio."  Of course, this wouldn't be literally true, but for practical purposes it is quite true.
This is not only true of conjunctions.  Every aspect colors a planet's expression.  It is true of the harmonious aspects because these aspects indicate internal, automatic
ways of being.  It is also very true of the dynamic aspects because they are so powerful.  The closer the aspect, the more significant it is.  Any aspect within one degree is ridiculously important. Any aspect within three degrees is very, very important. Any aspect within five degrees is very important. Any aspect within 10 degree is important. However, not all aspects should be considered up to 10 degrees; some aspects are only important when they are very close in orb. This is the kind of information available to sponsors.

Two ways of looking at an aspect

When two planets aspect each other it's as if they are in a permanent relationship with each other.  On the one hand, it's as if they are married.  On the other hand, it's as if one is the boss and the other the employee.
Two aspected planets are married to each other.  An important, day-to-day relationship exists between them and it cannot be avoided.  Just as in a marriage, each planet has to make sacrifices to get along with the other, but also as in marriage, there are benefits that come through their partnership.
But two aspected planets also have a boss/employee relationship.  One planet "calls the shots" and forces the other to work for it.  The slower planet is always the "boss." 

Two ways to see the boss/employee relationship

First, it must be said that the faster a planet is, the more "personal" it is.  And the slower a planet is, the more "transpersonal" and "transformative" it is.
There are two ways to look at this relationship.  On the one hand, one can say that the individual's life dimension indicated by the faster planet is being transformed by the slower planet.  This emphasizes that ultimately it is the faster planet which matters and affirms the importance of the very personal, human level.  This is a more humanistic approach.  What is important here is what the employee learns because of its boss.
On the other hand, one could say that the faster planet is
embodying the slower planet, allowing a more transpersonal energy to become a part of life on the personal level.  This emphasizes that ultimately the slower planet matter more and affirms the transpersonal level.  This approach takes less interest in the actual, individual people involved and stresses the effect of transformative experiences on a spiritual and global level.  From this perspective, the collective, because of its needs for growth and change, promotes transformation in individuals to benefit the whole.  Here it is the boss's objective which matters more than the employee's gains.

The Major Aspects Explained

Conjunction: 0 degrees, Easy-Harmonious or Difficult-Dynamic depending on the planets involved
(Mars by itself) (Masculine - Fiery)

A very subjective (Aries/Mars) aspect; Two planets in conjunction are unconsciously fused together. Here Mars has not met another planet, so there is no objectivity.

Sextile: 60 degrees, Easy-Harmonious
(It's as if Mars meets Mercury and Uranus) (Masculine - Airy)

Two planets in sextile cooperate (Aquarius/Uranus) unconsciously and harmoniously. They are excited and active, restlessly seeking stimulation (Gemini/Mercury). Like the trine (another masculine aspect), two planets in sextile need some extra discipline to be fully taken advantage of, but sextiles are much, much more active and practical in nature than trines.

Square: 90 degrees, Difficult-Dynamic
(It's as if Mars meets the Moon and Saturn) (Feminine - Earthy/Watery)

Ease and tranquility (Cancer/Moon) is upset (by Mars).  There is unrelenting pressure to balance the two planets in square until one gets it completely right (Capricorn/ Saturn). Like Saturn, one is annoyed by the square while one is still learning, but then appreciates it afterward because of all that one has learned  Like the opposition, it's often projected outward. If one can master the dynamic tension, which is no easy task, enormous power is possible, especially in a grounded, worldly sense.

Trine: 120 degrees, Easy-Harmonious
(It's as if Mars meets the Sun and Jupiter)  (Masculine - Fiery)

An indication of talents (Leo/Sun).  Two planets in trine easily and unconsciously flow together.  Steven Forrest says a trine is an indication of an
unlimited growth potential.  But the potential of trines can easily be wasted, as there is no pressure to make use of them (Sagittarius/Jupiter). A trine indicates greater potential than a sextile, but a trine is also much lazier. If the owner faithfully develops the aspect, it can be extraordinarily powerful. Even without application, a trine shows a tremendous gift or ability.

Quincunx: 150 degrees, Difficult-Dynamic
(It's as if Mars meets Chiron and Pluto) (Feminine--Watery/Earthy)
Shows a need for a deep psychological transformation (Pluto/Scorpio) around the two planetary functions. Old, ingrained patterns and tendencies are forced to change through gradual, but sometimes sudden, pressures. One must gradually become humble (Virgo) and heal (Chiron) around the meanings of the quincunx planets. A psychological adjustment must be made, but old habits usually die hard. When there's a quincunx, the pressure is on to change.

Opposition: 180 degrees, Difficult-Dynamic
(It's as if Mars meets Venus) [Feminine - Airy (an anomaly, like Libra)]

Two planets in opposition have urges which pull in opposite directions.  The opposition and square are the aspects most commonly projected onto one individual, i.e. the owner assumes one end, and another person assumes the other.  Oppositions demand consciousness, open-mindedness, cooperation and balance (Libra/Venus).  Like squares, oppositions yield tremendous growth because of their continual pressure for resolution.

Brief Post on Quintiles