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

  • 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

    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 in If Jan. 62/2 Robert A. Heinlein

    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 in Galaxy Dec. 102/1 Larry Niven

    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 Mag. 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 Planet? 36

    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 escape 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

    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…

  • 1998 D. Brin Heaven's Reach 257 David Brin

    Soon we verified they were orbiting artifacts, jostling deep inside the sheer gravity well.

  • 2000 Interzone Aug. 8/1

    The habitat’s delta-vee was modest to start with, but the steady push from its network of ion-boosters would give a cumulative effect that would allow Liberty to break out of the Sun’s gravity-well: Liberty had become an arkship.

  • 2005 C. Stross Accelerando i. 15 Charles Stross

    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 opreated safely deep within the gravity well of the Double Suns, but nature had provided.


Research requirements

antedating 1955

Earliest cite

Poul Anderson, "The Snows of Ganymede"

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"; we would like to verify 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"

Last modified 2021-01-21 04:36:15
In the compilation of some entries, HDSF has drawn extensively on corresponding entries in OED.