I was reading about gravity assist.

This maneuver is sometimes called a gravitational slingshot. But to me it seems more like a sling (like the one the Biblical David used against Goliath) The maneuver makes use of the movement of the planet (like a sling makes use of the movement of the hand) and the orbit is curved, like that of a sling. I don't immediately think of a slingshot when I read about it.

A slingshot (Y-bow) is stationary. A gravitational "slingshot" would never work if the planet was stationary.

OK, it is a detail, but technical terms are often very precise. Why is this term used? (Or did I miss something and it is not misleading?) (I am interested in the exchange of energy between bodies so my question is not only linguistic.)


2 Answers 2


The term is ambiguous. A slingshot is also a shot from a sling.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ That sounds like a possible theory. But even JPL writes "a flyby to slingshot it farther into space". Wouldn't "sling it farther" describe the process better? $\endgroup$
    – cvr
    Commented Sep 3, 2016 at 11:25
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, it would. Even writers sometimes choose the wrong word :) $\endgroup$
    – Hobbes
    Commented Sep 3, 2016 at 11:48

It's a poetic term which everyone understands immediately. You're trying to treat this as a "technical term" when it clearly isn't. It's a descriptive term - as evidenced by the existence of less-poetic terms like "gravity assist". Einstein said, "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler." - the term is immediately understood, it conveys what it's meant to, it causes no confusion - so why complicate the matter? It serves it's purpose. Nothing else matters.


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