Natural satellite

Charon (left) is a natural satellite of Pluto (right), orbiting around a point
The revolution animation of Charon orbiting Pluto as a natural satellite
The revolution animation of Charon orbiting Pluto as a natural satellite

A natural satellite is, in the most common usage, an astronomical body that orbits a planet, dwarf planet, or small Solar System body (or sometimes another natural satellite). Natural satellites are colloquially referred to as moons, a derivation from the Moon of Earth.

In the Solar System, there are six planetary satellite systems containing 284 known natural satellites altogether. Seven objects commonly considered dwarf planets by astronomers are also known to have natural satellites: Orcus, Pluto, Haumea, Quaoar, Makemake, Gonggong, and Eris.[1] As of November 2021, there are 442 other minor planets known to have natural satellites.[2]

A planet usually has at least around 10,000 times the mass of any natural satellites that orbit it, with a correspondingly much larger diameter.[3] The Earth–Moon system is a unique exception in the Solar System; at 3,474 kilometres (2,158 miles) across, the Moon is 0.273 times the diameter of Earth and about 180 of its mass.[4] The next largest ratios are the NeptuneTriton system at 0.055 (with a mass ratio of about 1 to 4790), the SaturnTitan system at 0.044 (with the second mass ratio next to the Earth–Moon system, 1 to 4220), the JupiterGanymede system at 0.038, and the UranusTitania system at 0.031. For the category of dwarf planets, Charon has the largest ratio, being 0.52 the diameter and 12.2% the mass of Pluto.

  1. ^ Cite error: The named reference WGPSN was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  2. ^ Cite error: The named reference Johnston was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  3. ^ Canup, Robin M.; Ward, William R. (June 2006). "A common mass scaling for satellite systems of gaseous planets". Nature. 441 (7095): 834–839. Bibcode:2006Natur.441..834C. doi:10.1038/nature04860. ISSN 1476-4687. PMID 16778883. S2CID 4327454.
  4. ^ Glenday, Craig (2014). Guinness World Records 2014. p. 186. ISBN 978-1-908843-15-9.

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