Q: The Earth’s moon is spherical. Is the Moon now eligible to be called a “planet”?(Thanks phi824)
A: No. The Moon is a satellite of the Earth. The reason the Moon is called a “satellite” instead of a “planet” is because the common centre of gravity between the Earth and Moon (called the “barycentre”) resides below the surface of the Earth.
Q: Jupiter and Saturn, for example, have large spherical satellites in orbit around them. Are these large spherical satellites now to be called planets?
A: No. All of the large satellites of Jupiter (for example, Europa) and Saturn (for example, Titan) orbit around a common centre of gravity (called the “barycentre”) that is deep inside of their massive planet. Regardless of the large size and shapes of these orbiting bodies, the location of the barycentre inside the massive planet is what defines large orbiting bodies such as Europa, Titan, etc. to be “satellites” rather than planets.
Q: Why is Pluto-Charon a “double planet” and not a “planet with a satellite”?
A: Both Pluto and Charon each are large enough (massive enough) to be spherical. Both bodies independently satisfy the definition of “planet”. The reason they are called a “double planet” is that their common centre of gravity is a point that is located in free space outside the surface of Pluto. Because both conditions are met: each body is “planet-like” and each body orbits around a point in free space that is not inside one of them, the system qualifies to be called a “double planet.”
Previously: And soon, there will be twelve planets