London, August 29 (ANI): If scientists have their way, then space missions in the future might see astronauts being sent to 'gravity holes'.
Gravitational "sweet spots" called Lagrange points lie at least 1 million kilometres away.
These points are great swathes of space where the gravitational acceleration from the Earth and the sun are exactly equal, letting objects stick there with very little effort.
Because they're far from warm stars and planets, they make useful havens for ultra-cold telescopes that measure fluctuations in the temperature of deep space.
The Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP), which measures radiation from the big bang, is located at a Lagrange point called L2 more than 1 million kilometres away.
The successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, the massive James Webb Space Telescope, will also be sent to the spot, which lies in line with the sun and Earth.
"If you look at our list of future space telescope concepts, just about all of them are going to go to L2," said Dan Lester of the University of Texas, Austin. "That's going to be a very busy place out there," he added.
But what would humans do there?
According to a report in New Scientist, one useful task is repairing and upgrading the new telescopes, like astronauts have done five times with Hubble.
"If we want to have humans having anything to do with these new telescopes, we really have to think about Lagrange points," Lester said.
Astronauts may not have to go as far as L2 to be useful.
Lagrange points exist in the Earth-moon system, and every other planet in the solar system also boasts Lagrange points with the sun.
It takes surprisingly little energy to travel between these points, because massive bodies like the sun and planets have gravitational fields that resemble mountains and hills, but Lagrange points are all at gravitational lowlands.
Once set on the right path, spacecraft can coast along the gravitational contours of space between these lowlands, as if travelling on an interplanetary superhighway.
"Going back and forth between Earth-sun Lagrange points and Earth-moon Lagrange points is pretty much a matter of giving the thing a swift kick," Lester told New Scientist.
Future astronauts could repair telescopes at a staging area at the nearest Earth-moon Lagrange point and send them sailing back to L2 when they're done.
They could also assemble large telescopes or spaceships at the staging area and then send them out to farther-flung destinations.(ANI)