Could we use the Sun to 'slingshot' spacecraft to the stars?

Wednesday 22nd July 2009
Submitted by Robert Matthews
Carl Redgrove, Milton Keynes

Discovered by an American student named Gary Flandro in the mid-1960s, the slingshot manoeuvre usually involves spacecraft briefly 'coat-tailing' a planet orbiting the Sun, extracting some of the orbital energy to gain a big boost in speed. While the Sun has a strong gravity field, it's hopeless as a slingshot, because (as Galileo pointed out) it's the stationary heart of the Solar System. As such, it has no orbital energy to pass on to the spacecraft.

Why do mirrors reverse left and right, not up and down?
previous qanda Article
Why does my car windscreen defrost despite the wind chill of travelling at speed?
next qanda Article
Q&A Tabs

Trees release oxygen when they use energy from sunlight to make glucose from carbon dioxide and water. Like all plants, trees also use oxygen when they split glucose back down to release energy to...

Animals unquestionably kill members of their species, all the time. Male lions slaughter all the cubs when they join a new pride; rival ant colonies of the same species fight bloody wars;...

It's for the same reason that a straight stick appears bent when some of it is underwater - because the light is passing between media that have different refractive indices (the ratio of the...

Phlegm is the mucous secretion of the respiratory passages. The cilia cells that line these passages are continually driving the phlegm upward to the throat, where it triggers the swallow reflex...

Beard hair is quite different to head hair; it is coarser, curlier and doesn't fall out as we get older. Comparatively little work has been done on the genetics of human hair colour, but it is...

All female mammals have a clitoris, the sole purpose of which is to react to sexual stimulation, and presumably this stimulation has evolved to be pleasurable for most species. But establishing...

To create a sound, we have to set matter - whether it's a gas like air, a liquid or even a solid material - in regular motion, creating a wave of specific frequencies, which we hear as a sound of...

Mirrors don’t reverse left and right either – that’s just our interpretation of what happens. Your reflection in the mirror is actually reversed front to back – if you have...

Discovered by an American student named Gary Flandro in the mid-1960s, the slingshot manoeuvre usually involves spacecraft briefly 'coat-tailing' a planet orbiting the Sun, extracting some of the...

The ice disappears because the wind blows away water molecules that have evaporated or 'sublimed' from the ice, so the ice slowly shrinks in size. The molecules that escape are those with the...