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Difference Between Orbit and Orbital for JEE Main 2025

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Last updated date: 13th Jul 2024
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What is Orbit and Orbital: An Introduction

In JEE mains, the difference between orbits and orbitals is crucial. Orbits are fixed paths in the Bohr model, while orbitals are regions of electron probability in quantum mechanics. Orbits have discrete energy levels and represent electron paths, while orbitals have different shapes (s, p, d, f) and define electron probability distributions. Orbits are associated with principal quantum numbers, while orbitals have energy sub-levels. Orbits have a fixed electron capacity, while each orbital type has a specific maximum electron capacity. Understanding these distinctions is important for a comprehensive understanding of atomic structure and quantum mechanics in the JEE mains examination.


Category:

JEE Main Difference Between

Content-Type:

Text, Images, Videos and PDF

Exam:

JEE Main

Topic Name:

Difference Between Orbit and Orbital

Academic Session:

2025

Medium:

English Medium

Subject:

Physics

Available Material:

Chapter-wise Difference Between Topics


In the field of quantum mechanics, the terms orbit and orbitals are often used to describe the arrangement and behavior of electrons in an atom. While they may sound similar, they have distinct meanings and implications. Let's explore what is orbit and orbital and differences between the two concepts.


Explain Orbit and Orbital

Orbit:

An orbit refers to the classical model of electron motion around the nucleus. In the early days of atomic theory, scientists such as Niels Bohr proposed that electrons moved in fixed circular paths around the nucleus, similar to planets orbiting the sun. These orbits were characterized by specific energy levels or shells, denoted as K, L, M, and so on. Each shell had a certain maximum number of electrons it could accommodate. The electrons in the outermost shell are called valence electrons and are primarily responsible for the chemical behavior of the atom.


However, the concept of electron orbits has limitations. According to classical physics, an electron in a circular orbit would continuously emit electromagnetic radiation and lose energy, ultimately collapsing into the nucleus. This contradicts the observed stability of atoms. Furthermore, the orbits did not explain the wave-like properties of electrons.


Orbitals:

In contrast to the fixed circular paths of orbits, orbitals are regions of space within an atom where an electron is likely to be found. They represent the probability distribution of finding an electron at a particular location. Orbitals are derived from solving the Schrödinger equation, which is a mathematical equation used in quantum mechanics to describe the behavior of electrons.


Orbitals are characterized by their shape, size, and orientation in space. They are labeled using a combination of letters and numbers, such as 1s, 2p, 3d, and so on. The principal quantum number (n) represents the energy level or shell, while the azimuthal quantum number (l) specifies the shape of the orbital. The magnetic quantum number (ml) indicates the orientation of the orbital within a specific energy level.


The most commonly known orbitals are the s, p, and d orbitals. The s orbital is spherical in shape and has the lowest energy. The p orbitals are dumbbell-shaped and oriented along the x, y, and z axes. The d orbitals have more complex shapes and orientations. Each orbital can hold a maximum of two electrons, and they fill up in a specific order based on the Aufbau principle, Pauli exclusion principle, and Hund's rule.


Characteristics of Orbit and Orbital

Orbit

Orbital

Circular Paths: Orbits are often depicted as circular paths around the nucleus in the classical model. They were initially proposed by Niels Bohr to explain the stability of atoms.


Fixed Energy Levels: Each orbit corresponds to a specific energy level or electron shell. These shells are labeled using the letters K, L, M, and so on. The energy of the electron increases with the distance from the nucleus.


Limited Electron Capacity: Each orbit has a maximum capacity to hold a certain number of electrons. The maximum number of electrons in an orbit is given by the formula 2n2, where 'n' represents the principal quantum number of the orbit.


Electrons in Valence Shells: The outermost shell, known as the valence shell, determines the chemical behavior of an atom. Electrons in this shell participate in bonding with other atoms, leading to the formation of compounds.


Bohr's Model Limitations: The classical model of orbits has certain limitations. It does not account for the wave-like properties of electrons and fails to explain the observed stability of atoms.

Different Shapes and Orientations: Orbitals have distinct shapes and orientations, which are determined by quantum numbers. The s orbital is spherical, while the p orbitals are dumbbell-shaped and aligned along the x, y, and z axes.


Energy Sublevels: Each principal energy level (shell) consists of one or more sublevels or subshells. Subshells are designated by letters such as s, p, d, and f. The s subshell has one orbital, the p subshell has three orbitals, the d subshell has five orbitals, and the f subshell has seven orbitals.


Maximum Electron Capacity: Each orbital can accommodate a maximum of two electrons, following the Pauli exclusion principle. The filling order of orbitals is determined by the Aufbau principle, which states that lower energy orbitals are filled before higher energy ones.


Three Quantum Numbers: Orbitals are described using three quantum numbers: the principal quantum number (n), the azimuthal quantum number (l), and the magnetic quantum number (ml). These numbers specify the energy level, shape, and orientation of the orbital, respectively.


Orbit and Orbital Difference 

S. No

Characteristics

Orbits

Orbitals

1

Nature

Fixed circular paths

Probability distribution

2

Description

Energy levels, shells

Shape, size, orientation

3

Behavior

Cannot explain stability,

Consistent with experimental

4

Electron Capacity

Limited electron capacity

Maximum of 2 electrons

5

Shape

Not applicable

Spherical (s), dumbbell-shaped (p),

6

Quantum Numbers

Quantum Numbers

Principal (n), azimuthal (l),


This tabular representation clearly outlines the distinctions between orbits and orbitals in terms of their nature, description, behavior, electron capacity, valence electrons, shape, quantum numbers, and the models used to describe them. Understanding these differences is crucial for JEE Mains aspirants to tackle questions related to atomic structure and electron configurations effectively.


Summary

In summary, the key differences between orbits and orbitals are:

Nature: Orbits are fixed circular paths that electrons were thought to follow in the classical model, while orbitals are regions of space where electrons are likely to be found based on quantum mechanics. This knowledge forms the foundation of quantum mechanics and is essential for students preparing for exams like JEE mains.

FAQs on Difference Between Orbit and Orbital for JEE Main 2025

1. What is an orbit in atomic structure?

An orbit refers to the classical model of electron motion around the nucleus. In this model, electrons were thought to move in fixed circular paths at specific energy levels or shells.

2. What is the main limitation of the concept of orbits?

The main limitation is that the concept of orbits cannot explain the observed stability of atoms and the wave-like properties of electrons.

3. What are orbitals in atomic structure?

Orbitals are regions of space within an atom where electrons are likely to be found based on quantum mechanics. They represent the probability distribution of finding an electron at a particular location.

4. How are orbitals different from orbits?

Orbitals are based on quantum mechanics and describe the probability distribution of electron presence, while orbits are based on the classical model and describe fixed circular paths. Orbitals are more accurate in explaining electron behavior.

5. How are orbitals characterized?

Orbitals are characterized by their shape, size, and orientation in space. They are labeled using a combination of letters and numbers, such as 1s, 2p, 3d, etc