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 often colloquially referred to as moons, a derivation from the Moon of Earth.

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

In the Solar System, there are six planetary satellite systems containing 209 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 5000), the SaturnTitan system at 0.044 (with the second mass ratio next to the Earth–Moon system, 1 to 4250), 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.


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