gravity well n.

the area of space near a large mass (such as a planet or star) in which significant energy must be expended in order to counteract the object’s gravitational pull; the gravitational pull exerted by a large body in space

  • [1951 W. Ley Letter in Astounding Science Fiction May 154/1 page image Willy Ley

    In other words the sun will furnish power only for moving in its own gravitational ‘well’.]

  • 1952 R. A. Heinlein Rolling Stones v. 70 page image Robert A. Heinlein bibliography

    In interplanetary trade cost is always a matter of where a thing is gravity-wise—not how far away. Earth is a lovely planet but all her products lie at the bottom of a very deep ‘gravity well’, deeper than that of Venus, enormously deeper than Luna’s. [Ibid. vi. 80] Blasting off from Luna is not the terrifying and oppressive experience that a lift from Earth is. The Moon’s field is so weak, her gravity well so shallow, that a boost of one-g would suffice.

  • 1954 ‘L. Correy’ Amateur in Astounding Science Fiction Feb. 97/1 page image G. Harry Stine bibliography

    Ever hear of maneuvering through a gravity well?

  • 1955 P. Anderson Snows of Ganymede in Startling Stories Winter 52/1 page image Poul Anderson bibliography

    They were aiming only to get off a small world with negligible air resistance, and not even to leave its gravity well entirely.

  • [1957 P. Anderson Life Cycle in Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction July 53/2 page image Poul Anderson bibliography

    He was the pilot and engineer, the only other Terrestrial on Mercury. When you dove this far down into the sun’s monstrous gravitational well, you couldn’t take a big crew along. ]

  • 1963 ‘W. P. Sanders’ Industrial Revolution in Analog Science Fact/Science Fiction Sept. 22/1 Poul Anderson bibliography

    It’s actually harder to maintain human-type conditions on so big a mass, with a useless atmosphere around you, than on a lump in space like this. And the gravity wells are so deep.

  • 1966 R. A. Heinlein Moon Is a Harsh Mistress in Worlds of If Jan. 62/2 page image Robert A. Heinlein bibliography

    But Luna has energy of position; she sits at top of gravity well eleven kilometers per second deep and kept from falling in by curb only two and a half km/s high.

  • 1966 L. Niven At the Bottom of a Hole in Galaxy Dec. 102/1 Larry Niven bibliography

    Even the ships of Earth use only a little of their fuel getting in and out of their pet gravity well. Most of it gets burned getting them from place to place fast. And Mars is lighter than Earth.

  • 1970 A. C. Clarke in Galaxy Magazine May 84/1 Arthur C. Clarke

    They were still accelerating when a fantastically unlikely accident occurred. Flatbush ran straight into the gravity well of a neutron star.

  • 1987 J. M. Ford How Much for Just the Planet? 36 John M. Ford bibliography

    They’re headed straight for the surface… Any deeper in the gravity well and the tractors won’t be reliable.

  • 1992 A. Steele Labyrinth of Night 21 Allen Steele bibliography

    Once having escaped Earth’s gravity well, beyond the orbit of the Moon, the vessels had rendezvous-ed in deep space.

  • 1993 K. S. Robinson Green Mars (new ed.) 334 Kim Stanley Robinson bibliography

    Given the acute population and environmental problems on Earth, and the space elevator currently being constructed there to match the one already on Mars, the gravity wells could be surmounted and mass emigration would certainly follow…

  • 2005 C. Stross Accelerando i. 15 Charles Stross bibliography

    Mars is just dumb mass at the bottom of a gravity well; there isn’t even a biosphere there.

  • 2006 Analog June 101/1

    The interstellar drive could not be operated safely deep within the gravity well of the Double Suns, but nature had provided.

  • 2015 N. Stephenson Seveneves 510 Neal Stephenson bibliography

    Endurance was at least as maneuverable now as she had been at the beginning, when she had wallowed at the bottom of Earth’s gravity well, burdened with years’ worth of propellant.

Research requirements

antedating 1952

Earliest cite

Robert Heinlein, The Rolling Stones

Research History
Mike Christie submitted a cite from Larry Niven's "At the Bottom of a Hole" in the December 1966 Galaxy.
David Tate submitted a cite from Robert Heinlein's "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" in the January 1966 If.
Edward Bornstein submitted a cite from a reprint of Arthur C. Clarke's "Neutron Tide"; Mike Christie verified the cite in the 1970 original magazine appearance.
Enoch Forrester submitted a 1987 cite from John M. Ford's "How Much for Just the Planet?"
Enoch Forrester submitted a cite from a 1993 reprint of Vernor Vinge's 1992 "A Fire Upon the Deep".
Enoch Forrester submitted a cite from a 1983 reprint of Alan Dean Foster's "The Tar-Aiym Krang"; Douglas Winston verified the cite in the 1972 first edition.
Mike Christie submitted a 1963 cite from Poul Anderson's "Industrial Revolution", which was published as by Winston P. Sanders.
David E. Siegel submitted a cite from an undated reprint of Heinlein's "The Rolling Stones"; Jesse Sheidlower verified this in its original publication (Charles Scribner's sons, 1952).
Fred Galvin submitted a 1957 cite for "gravitational well" from Poul Anderson's "Life Cycle".
Jesse Sheidlower submitted a 1955 cite from Poul Anderson's "Snows of Ganymede".
Bill Mullins submitted a 1951 cite from Willy Ley for "gravitational well".
Bill Mullins submitted a 1954 cite from G. Harry Stine (writing as "Lee Correy") in Astounding.

Last modified 2023-11-16 23:37:37
In the compilation of some entries, HDSF has drawn extensively on corresponding entries in OED.