Difference between Orbit and Orbital

Most of the students get confused between the terms orbit and orbitals in chemistry. But for better understanding of chemistry, you need to know all these terms clearly and distinctly. Orbit and orbital both are different from one another and have different meanings. You need to know the differences between orbit and orbital, so that you can understand the subject chemistry very well. Orbits and orbitals are the terms related to atomic structure and atomic structure is the basic topic of chemistry. So, its important for you to understand the difference between orbits and orbitals.

What is Orbit?

Orbit is a well-defined circular path around the nucleus in which electrons revolve around the nucleus. It is also called a shell. It is denoted by the principal quantum number ‘n’. Electrons can jump from one orbit to another by either absorbing energy or releasing energy. Suppose if an electron comes from higher energy level to lower energy level then it has to release a specific amount of energy and if an electron jumps from lower energy level to higher energy level then it absorbs energy. 

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What is Orbital? 

Atomic orbitals are 3-dimensional spaces around the nucleus where the probability of finding an electron is maximum. Molecular orbitals are made up of atomic orbitals or hybrid atomic orbitals. In elementary quantum chemistry, we encounter orbitals corresponding to the s, p, d and f sub shells. Orbitals are of different shapes and sizes which can be determined by square of the wave function. 

Different Shapes of Orbitals : s,p,d,f

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Difference between Orbits and Orbitals 

We can distinguish orbit and orbital on the basis of following points - 



Orbit is a well-defined circular path around the nucleus in which electrons revolve around the nucleus.

3-dimensional space around the nucleus where is probability of finding an electron is maximum is called an orbital. 

It represents the motion of an electron in one plane. 

It represents motion of an electron in three-dimensional space.

All the orbits are either circular or elliptical. 

Orbitals are of different shapes such as spherical, dumbbell and double dumbbell.  

In an orbit one, two or more than two electrons can be present. In an orbit number of electrons can be 2n2 where ‘n’ is number of orbit or principle quantum number. 

In one orbital maximum two electrons can be filled. 

Orbits are non-directional in nature. 

Orbitals are directional in nature except s-orbitals which are spherical in shape. 

Orbits represent that position and momentum of an electron can be measured simultaneously with certainty. Which is against Heinsberg’s principle. 

Orbitals concept completely complies with Heinsberg’s uncertainty principle. 

Atomic Structure showing Orbit 

Shapes of s, p, d and f-orbitals

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