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Natural satellite - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Natural satellite
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A natural satellite , or moon, is a celestial body that orbits another body, e.g. a planet, which is called its primary. There are 173 known natural satellites orbiting planets in the Solar System,[1][2] as well as at least eight orbiting IAU-listed dwarf planets.[3] As of January 2012, over 200 minorplanet moons have been discovered.[4] There are 76 known objects in the asteroid belt with satellites (five with two satellites each), four Jupiter trojans, 39 near-Earth objects (two with two satellites each), and 14 Mars-crossers.[4] There are also 84 known natural satellites of trans-Neptunian objects.[4] Some 150 additional small bodies have been observed within rings of Saturn, but only a few were tracked long enough to establish orbits. Planets around other stars are likely to have satellites as well, though numerous candidates have been detected to date, none have yet been confirmed. Of the inner planets, Mercury and Venus have no natural satellites; Earth has one large natural satellite, known as the Moon; and Mars has two tiny natural satellites, Phobos and Deimos. The large gas giants have extensive systems of natural satellites, including half a dozen comparable in size to Earth's Moon: the four Galilean moons, Saturn's Titan, and Neptune's Triton. Saturn has an additional six mid-sized natural satellites massive enough to have achieved hydrostatic equilibrium, and Uranus has five. It has been suggested that some satellites may potentially harbour life, though there is currently no direct evidence of life. The EarthMoon system is unique in that the ratio of the mass of the Moon to the mass of the Earth is much greater than that of any other natural satellite:planet ratio in the Solar System, and the Moon's orbit with respect to the Sun is always concave.[5] Among the dwarf planets, Ceres and Makemake have no known natural satellites. Pluto has the relatively large natural satellite Charon and four smaller natural satellites.[6] Haumea has two natural satellites, and Eris has one. The PlutoCharon system is unusual in that the center of mass lies in open space between the two, a characteristic sometimes associated with a double-planet system.

1 Origin and orbital characteristics 2 Tidal locking 3 Satellites of satellites 4 Trojan satellites 5 Asteroid satellites 6 Shape 7 Geological activity 8 Natural satellites of the Solar System 9 Terminology 9.1 The definition of a moon 10 Visual summary 11 See also 11.1 Moons of planets 11.2 Moons of dwarf planets and small Solar System bodies 12 References 13 External links 13.1 All moons 13.2 Jupiter's moons 13.3 Saturn's moons

Nineteen natural satellites are large enough to be round, and one, Saturn's Titan, has a substantial atmosphere.

Origin and orbital characteristics

The natural satellites orbiting relatively close to the planet on prograde, uninclined circular orbits (regular satellites) are generally believed to have been formed out of the same collapsing region of the protoplanetary disk that created its primary. In contrast, irregular satellites (generally orbiting on distant, inclined, eccentric and/or retrograde orbits) are thought to be captured asteroids possibly further fragmented by collisions. Most of the major natural satellites of the Solar System have regular orbits, while most of the small natural satellites have irregular orbits.[7] The Earth's Moon[8] and possibly Charon[9] are exceptions among large bodies in that they are believed to have originated by the collision of two large proto-planetary objects (see the giant impact hypothesis). The material that would have been placed in orbit around the central body is predicted to have reaccreted to form one or more orbiting natural satellites. As opposed to planetary-sized bodies, asteroid moons are thought to commonly form by this process. Triton is another exception; although large and in a close, circular orbit, its motion is retrograde and it is thought to be a captured dwarf planet.

Tidal locking
Main article: Tidal locking 1/8


Natural satellite - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Most regular moons (natural satellites following relatively close and prograde orbits with small orbital inclination and eccentricity) in the Solar System are tidally locked to their respective primaries, meaning that the same side of the natural satellite always faces its planet. The only known exception is Saturn's natural satellite Hyperion, which rotates chaotically because of the gravitational influence of Titan. In contrast, the outer natural satellites of the gas giants (irregular satellites) are too far away to have become locked. For example, Jupiter's natural satellite Himalia, Saturn's natural satellite Phoebe, and Neptune's natural satellite Nereid have rotation periods in the range of ten hours, while their orbital periods are hundreds of days.

Satellites of satellites
No "moons of moons" (natural satellites that orbit a natural satellite of another body) are known. In most cases, the tidal effects of the primary would make such a system unstable. However, calculations performed after the recent detection[10] of a possible ring system around Saturn's natural satellite Rhea indicate that satellites orbiting Rhea would have stable orbits. Furthermore, the suspected rings are thought to be narrow,[11] a phenomenon normally associated with shepherd moons. However, targeted images taken by the Cassini spacecraft failed to detect any rings associated with Rhea.[12] It has also been proposed that Saturn's satellite Iapetus possessed a subsatellite in the past; this is one of several hypotheses that have been put forward to account for its equatorial ridge.[13]

Trojan satellites
Two natural satellites are known to have small companions at their L4 and L5 Lagrangian points, sixty degrees ahead and behind the body in its orbit. These companions are called trojan moons, as their orbits are analogous to the Trojan asteroids of Jupiter. The trojan moons are Telesto and Calypso, which are the leading and following companions, respectively, of Tethys; and Helene and Polydeuces, the leading and following companions of Dione.

Two moons: Saturn's natural satellite Dione occults Enceladus

Asteroid satellites
Main article: Asteroid moon The discovery of 243 Ida's natural satellite Dactyl in the early 1990s confirmed that some asteroids have natural satellites; indeed, 87 Sylvia has two. Some, such as 90 Antiope, are double asteroids with two comparably sized components.

Proteus is the largest irregularly shaped natural satellite. All other known natural satellites the size of Miranda and above have lapsed into a rounded ellipsoid under hydrostatic equilibrium. The planets are not truly spherical but oblate spheroids, squatter at the pole than at the equator, but with a constant equatorial diameter. The larger natural satellites, however, since they are all tidally locked, are scalene or (egg-shaped), squat at the poles but with the equatorial axis directed at their planet longer than the axis along their direction of motion. Mimas's major axis is 9% greater than its polar axis and 5% greater than its other equatorial axis. Visibly egg-shaped Methone is a very small moon only around 3 km in diameter. The effect is smaller with the largest natural satellites, where self gravity is greater relative to tidal distortion, especially when they orbit a less massive planet or at a greater distance, as the Moon does. Name Mimas Miranda Tethys Io Satellite of Saturn Uranus Saturn Jupiter Difference in axes (km) 16.6 14.2 25.8 29.4 4.3 (% of mean diameter) 3.3% 3.0% 2.4% 0.8% 0.1% 33.4 (20.4, 13.0) 8.4% (5.1%, 3.3%)

Artist impression of Rhea's proposed rings

Enceladus Saturn

The relative masses of the natural satellites of the Solar System. Mimas, Enceladus, and Miranda are too small to be visible at this scale. All the irregularly shaped natural satellites, even added together, would also be too small to be visible.

The Moon Earth

Geological activity 2/8


Natural satellite - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Of the nineteen known natural satellites in the Solar System that are massive enough to have lapsed into hydrostatic equilibrium, several remain geologically active today. Io is the most volcanically active body in the Solar System, while Europa, Enceladus, Titan and Triton display evidence of ongoing tectonic activity and cryovolcanism. In the first three cases, the geological activity is powered by the tidal heating resulting from having eccentric orbits close to their gas giant primaries. (This mechanism would have also operated on Triton in the past, before its orbit was circularized.) Many other natural satellites, such as Earth's Moon, Ganymede, Tethys and Miranda, show evidence of past geological activity, resulting from energy sources such as the decay of their primordial radioisotopes, greater past orbital eccentricities (due in some cases to past orbital resonances), or the differentiation or freezing of their interiors. Enceladus and Triton both have active features resembling geysers, although in the case of Triton solar heating appears to provide the energy. Titan and Triton have significant atmospheres; Titan also has hydrocarbon lakes, and presumably methane rain. Four of the largest natural satellites, Europa, Ganymede, Callisto, and Titan, are thought to have subsurface oceans of liquid water, while smaller Enceladus may have localized subsurface liquid water.

Natural satellites of the Solar System

The seven largest natural satellites in the Solar System (those bigger than 2,500 km across) are Jupiter's Galilean moons (Ganymede, Callisto, Io, and Europa), Saturn's moon Titan, Earth's moon, and Neptune's captured natural satellite Triton. Triton, the smallest of these, has more mass than all smaller natural satellites together. Similarly in the next size group of nine natural satellites, between 1,000 km and 1,600 km across, Titania, Oberon, Rhea, Iapetus, Charon, Ariel, Umbriel, Dione, and Tethys, the smallest, Tethys, has more mass than all smaller natural satellites together. As well as the natural satellites of the various planets, there are also over 80 known natural satellites of the dwarf planets, asteroids and other small Solar System bodies. Some studies estimate that up to 15% of all trans-Neptunian objects could have satellites. The following is a comparative table classifying the natural satellites in the Solar System by diameter. The column on the right includes some notable planets, dwarf planets, asteroids, and trans-Neptunian objects for comparison. The natural satellites of the planets are named after mythological figures. These are predominately Greek, except for the Uranian natural satellites, which are named after Shakespearean characters. The nineteen bodies massive enough to have achieved hydrostatic equilibrium are in bold in the table below. Minor planets and satellites suspected but not proven to have achieved a hydrostatic equilibrium are italicized in the table below.

Discovery image of Styx, photographed by Hubbles Wide Field Camera 3. [6]



Natural satellite - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Mean diameter Earth Mars (km) 4,0006,000 3,0004,000 Moon 2,0003,000

Satellites of planets Jupiter Ganymede Callisto Io Europa Triton Rhea Iapetus Dione Tethys Enceladus Titania Oberon Umbriel Ariel Saturn Titan Uranus Neptune

Satellites of dwarf planets Pluto Haumea Eris

Satellites of other minor planets

Non-satellites for comparison Mercury

Eris Pluto Charon Makemake Haumea 2007 OR 10, Quaoar Dysnomia 90377 Sedna, Ceres , Salacia, Orcus, 2 Pallas, 4 Vesta
many more TNOs




Mimas Hyperion


Proteus Nereid


Orcus I Vanth S/2005 (82075) 1 SilaNunam I Salacia I Actaea Ceto I Phorcys Patroclus I Menoetius
~21 more moons of TNOs

10 Hygiea 704 Interamnia 87 Sylvia

and many others


Amalthea Phoebe Himalia Janus Thebe Epimetheus

Sycorax Puck Portia

Larissa Galatea Despina


3 Juno 1992 QB1 5 Astraea 42355 Typhon

and many others


Caliban Juliet Thalassa Belinda Elara Prometheus Halimede Cressida Pasipha Pandora Neso Rosalind Naiad Desdemona Bianca Carme Metis Sinope Lysithea Ananke Siarnaq Helene Albiorix Atlas Pan Telesto Paaliaq Calypso Ymir Kiviuq Tarvos Ijiraq Erriapus 36 moons Ophelia Cordelia Setebos Prospero Perdita Stephano

Hydra Nix

Quaoar I Weywot 90 Antiope I Typhon I Echidna Logos I Zoe

5 more moons of TNOs

90 Antiope 58534 Logos 253 Mathilde

and many others


Sao Laomedeia Psamathe

22 Kalliope I Linus

1036 Ganymed 243 Ida

and many others


Phobos Deimos

Leda Adrastea

Mab Cupid Francisco Kerberos S/2004 N 1 Ferdinand Styx Margaret Trinculo

762 Pulcova I Sylvia I Romulus 624 Hektor I Eugenia I Petit-Prince 121 Hermione I 283 Emma I 1313 Berna I 107 Camilla I Sylvia II Remus Ida I Dactyl
and many others

433 Eros 1313 Berna

and many others

< 10

51 moons


The first known natural satellite was the Moon, but it was considered a "planet" until Copernicus' introduction of heliocentrism in 1543. Until the discovery of the Galilean satellites in 1610, however, there was no opportunity for referring to such objects as a class. Galileo chose to refer to his discoveries as Planet ("planets"), but later discoverers chose other terms to distinguish them from the objects they orbited. Christiaan Huygens, the discoverer of Titan, was the first to use the term moon for such objects, calling Titan Luna Saturni or Luna Saturnia "Saturn's moon" or "The Saturnian moon", because it stood in the same relation to Saturn as the Moon did to the Earth.[citation needed ] The first to use of the term satellite to describe orbiting bodies was the German astronomer Johannes Kepler in his pamphlet Narratio de Observatis a se quatuor Iouis satellitibus erronibus ("Narration About Four Satellites of Jupiter Observed") in 1610. He derived the term from the Latin word satelles, meaning "guard", "attendant", or "companion", because the satellites accompanied their primary planet in their journey through the heavens.



Natural satellite - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

As additional natural satellites of Saturn were discovered the term "moon" was abandoned. Giovanni Domenico Cassini sometimes referred to his discoveries as plantes in French, but more often as satellites.[citation needed ] The term satellite thus became the normal one for referring to an object orbiting a planet, as it avoided the ambiguity of "moon". In 1957, however, the launching of the artificial object Sputnik created a need for new terminology. The terms man-made satellite or artificial moon were very quickly abandoned in favor of the simpler satellite, and as a consequence, the term has become linked primarily with artificial objects flown in space including, sometimes, even those not in orbit around a planet. Because of this shift in meaning, the term moon, which had continued to be used in a generic sense in works of popular science and in fiction, has regained respectability and is now used interchangeably with natural satellite, even in scientific articles. When it is necessary to avoid both the ambiguity of confusion with the Earth's natural satellite the Moon and the natural satellites of the other planets on the one hand, and artificial satellites on the other, the term natural satellite (using "natural" in a sense opposed to "artificial") is used. To further avoid ambiguity, the convention is to capitalize the word Moon when referring to the Earth's natural satellite, but not when referring to other natural satellites.

The definition of a moon

There is not an established lower limit on what is considered a "moon", as natural satellites will be referred to in this section. Every natural celestial body with an identified orbit around a planet of the Solar System, some as small as a kilometer across, has been identified as a moon, though objects a tenth that size within Saturn's rings, which have not been directly observed, have been called moonlets. Small asteroid moons (natural satellites of asteroids), such as Dactyl, have also been called moonlets.[14]

Comparison of Earth and the Moon



Natural satellite - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The upper limit is also vague. Two orbiting bodies are sometimes described as a double body rather than primary and satellite. Asteroids such as 90 Antiope are considered double asteroids, but they have not forced a clear definition of what constitutes a moon. Some authors consider the Pluto Charon system to be a double (dwarf) planet. The most common[citation needed ] dividing line on what is considered a moon rests upon whether the barycentre is below the surface of the larger body, though this is somewhat arbitrary, as it relies on distance as well as relative mass.

Visual summary
Solar System moons

(moon of Jupiter)

(moon of Saturn)

(moon of Jupiter)

(moon of Jupiter)

(moon of Earth)



(moon of Jupiter) (moon of Neptune)

(moon of Uranus)

(moon of Saturn)

(moon of Uranus)

(moon of Saturn)

(moon of Uranus)

(moon of Uranus)

(moon of Saturn)

(moon of Saturn)

(moon of Saturn)




(moon of Saturn)

(moon of Saturn)

(moon of Uranus) (moon of Neptune) (moon of Saturn)

(moon of Saturn)

(moon of Jupiter)

(moon of Saturn)

(moon of Jupiter)

(moon of Saturn)

(moon of Saturn)

(moon of Saturn)

(moon of Saturn)

(moon of Saturn)

(moon of Saturn)

(moon of Mars)

(moon of Mars)

(moon of Saturn)

This box: view talk edit (//

See also
Co-orbital moon Extrasolar moon Inner moon Irregular moon List of natural satellites Naming of moons Quasi-satellite Timeline of discovery of Solar System planets and their moons Trojan moon Tug of war (astronomy)

Comparison of (a part of) Jupiter and its four largest natural satellites.

Moons of planets 6/8


Natural satellite - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Earth's moon Moons of Mars Moons of Jupiter Moons of Saturn Moons of Uranus Moons of Neptune

Moons of dwarf planets and small Solar System bodies

Asteroid moon Moons of Pluto Eris's moon Moons of Haumea

1. ^ Sheppard, Scott S. "The Giant Planet Satellite and Moon Page" ( Departament of Terrestrial Magnetism at Carniege Institution for science. Retrieved 2012-09-11. 2. ^ "How Many Solar System Bodies" ( NASA/JPL Solar System Dynamics. Retrieved 2012-01-26. 3. ^ "Planet and Satellite Names and Discoverers" ( International Astronomical Union (IAU) Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature (WGPSN). Retrieved 2012-01-27. 4. ^ a b c Wm. Robert Johnston (2012-01-11). "Asteroids with Satellites" ( Johnston's Archive. Retrieved 2012-01-26. 5. ^ "...if you were to draw a picture of the orbits of the Earth and Moon about the Sun exactly to scale, you would see that the Moon's orbit is everywhere concave toward the Sun. It is always "falling toward" the Sun. All the other satellites, without exception, "fall away" from the Sun through part of their orbits, caught as they are by the superior pull of their primary planets but not the Moon." Isaac Asimov [Asimov, Isaac (1975). "Just Mooning Around", collected in Of Time and Space, and other things (Avon)] 6. ^ a b "Hubble Discovers New Pluto Moon" ( ESA/Hubble Press Release. Retrieved 13 July 2012. 7. ^ Encyclopedia of the Solar System, page 366, Academic Press, 2007, Lucy-Ann Adams McFadden, Paul Robert Weissman, Torrence V. Johnson 8. ^ R. Canup and E. Asphaug, RM; Asphaug, E (2001). "Origin of the Moon in a giant impact near the end of the Earth's formation". Nature 412 (6848): 708712. Bibcode:2001Natur.412..708C ( doi:10.1038/35089010 ( PMID 11507633 (// 9. ^ S. Stern, H. Weaver, A. Steffl, M. Mutchler, W. Merline, M. Buie, E. Young, L. Young, and J. Spencer, SA; Weaver, HA; Steffl, AJ; Mutchler, MJ; Merline, WJ; Buie, MW; Young, EF; Young, LA et al. (2006). "A giant impact origin for Pluto's small natural satellites and satellite multiplicity in the Kuiper belt". Nature 439 (7079): 946949. Bibcode:2006Natur.439..946S ( doi:10.1038/nature04548 ( PMID 16495992 (// | d i s p l a y a u t h o r s =suggested (help) 10. ^ "The Dust Halo of Saturn's Largest Icy Moon, Rhea Jones et al. 319 (5868): 1380 Science" ( maxtoshow=&HITS=10&hits=10&RESULTFORMAT=&fulltext=rhea&searchid=1&FIRSTINDEX=0&resourcetype=HWCIT). Retrieved 2008-0306. 11. ^ "Saturn satellite reveals first moon rings 06 March 2008 New Scientist" ( Retrieved 2008-03-06. 12. ^ 13. ^ "How Iapetus, Saturns outermost moon, got its ridge" ( Retrieved 2010-12-18. 14. ^ F. Marchis et al. (2005). "Discovery of the triple asteroidal system 87 Sylvia". Nature 436 (7052): 8224. Bibcode:2005Natur.436..822M ( doi:10.1038/nature04018 ( PMID 16094362 (//

External links
All moons
Natural Satellite Physical Parameters ( (JPL-NASA, with refslast updated July 2006) Moons of the Solar System ( (The Planetary Society, as of March 2009) JPL's Solar System Dynamics page ( USGS list of named moons ( Upper size limit for moons explained ( Asteroids with Satellites ( Images of planets and major moons (not to scale) ( The Planetary Society - Moon Montage(s) (

Jupiter's moons
Scott Sheppard's page ( 7/8


Natural satellite - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Jupiter's new moons (discovered in 2002) ( Jupiter's new moons (discovered in 2003) (

Saturn's moons
Saturn's new moons (discovered in 2000) ( Saturn's new moon (discovered in 2003) ( Retrieved from "" Categories: Moons This page was last modified on 3 October 2013 at 08:30. Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. Wikipedia is a registered trademark of the Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., a non-profit organization.