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Orbit vs. Orbital: Know the Difference

Shumaila Saeed
By Shumaila Saeed || Published on February 6, 2024
An orbit is the path a body follows as it moves around another body in space, while an orbital is a quantum mechanical concept describing the probability distribution of an electron in an atom.
Orbit vs. Orbital

Key Differences

Orbit refers to the gravitational path that celestial bodies follow around another body, like planets around a star. Orbital, in the context of quantum mechanics, describes areas around an atom's nucleus where electrons are likely found.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Feb 06, 2024
The concept of an orbit is fundamental in astronomy and space science, denoting the trajectory of planets, moons, and artificial satellites. Orbital, on the other hand, is a key concept in chemistry and physics, related to the behavior of electrons in atoms.
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Orbits are described by laws of classical mechanics, notably Kepler's laws and Newton's laws of motion and gravitation. Orbitals are described by principles of quantum mechanics, including the Schrödinger equation.
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The shape of an orbit can be circular, elliptical, parabolic, or hyperbolic, depending on the gravitational forces. Orbitals have different shapes like s, p, d, and f, indicating the spatial distribution of electrons.
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Feb 06, 2024
While the term 'orbit' is applied in a macroscopic context for celestial bodies, 'orbital' is used on a microscopic scale, relating to electrons in atoms.
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Comparison Chart

Definition

Path of a celestial body around another body
Probability distribution of an electron
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Context

Astronomy and space science
Chemistry and quantum physics
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Governing Principles

Classical mechanics (Kepler's and Newton's laws)
Quantum mechanics (Schrodinger equation)
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Shape Examples

Circular, elliptical, parabolic, hyperbolic
S, p, d, f shapes
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Scale

Macroscopic (planets, satellites)
Microscopic (electrons in atoms)
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Orbit and Orbital Definitions

Orbit

A looped trajectory under the influence of gravity.
The Earth's orbit around the sun defines a year.
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Orbital

A mathematical function describing electron locations.
Orbitals are crucial in predicting molecular bonding.
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Jan 18, 2024

Orbit

The path of a celestial body or an artificial satellite as it revolves around another body due to their mutual gravitational attraction.
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Jan 18, 2024

Orbital

A region around an atom where electrons are likely found.
In chemistry, the 2p orbital has a dumbbell shape.
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Jan 18, 2024

Orbit

One complete revolution of such a body.
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Orbital

A quantum mechanical concept for electron position.
The orbital diagram helps visualize electron configurations.
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Jan 18, 2024

Orbit

The path of a body in a field of force surrounding another body; for example, the movement of an atomic electron in relation to a nucleus.
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Jan 18, 2024

Orbital

A term in chemistry defining electron arrangements.
The hybridization theory involves mixing of orbitals.
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Jan 18, 2024

Orbit

A range of activity, experience, or knowledge.
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Orbital

Of or relating to an orbit.
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Orbit

A range of control or influence
"What magnetism drew these quaking ruined creatures into his orbit?" (Malcolm Lowry).
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Orbital

The wave function of an electron in an atom or molecule, indicating the electron's probable location.
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Jan 18, 2024

Orbit

Either of two bony cavities in the skull containing an eye and its external structures. Also called eye socket.
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Orbital

Of or relating to, or forming an orbit (such as the orbit of a moon, planet, or spacecraft).
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Orbit

To move in an orbit.
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Orbital

(anatomy) Of or relating to the eye socket eyehole.
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Orbit

To revolve around (a center of attraction)
The moon orbits Earth.
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Orbital

Passing around the outside of an urban area.
The M25 is an orbital motorway around London.
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Orbit

To put into an orbit
The space agency orbited a new satellite.
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Orbital

Ellipsis of orbital motorway.
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Orbit

(astronomy) A circular or elliptical path of a celestial object or spacecraft around a star, planet, moon, or Lagrange point, especially a periodic elliptical revolution.
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Orbital

(physics) A specification of the energy and probability density of one or more electrons at any point in an atom or molecule, and can be represented as a wave function.
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Orbit

One complete circuit round an orbited body.
The Moon's orbit around the Earth takes nearly one month to complete.
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Orbital

Of or pertaining to an orbit.
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Orbit

(uncountable) The state of moving in an orbit.
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Orbital

Of or relating to an orbit;
Orbital revolution
Orbital velocity
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Orbit

(physics) The path of an electron around an atomic nucleus.
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Orbital

Of or relating to the eye socket;
Orbital scale
Orbital arch
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Orbit

(pinball) A path for the ball on the outer edge of the playfield, usually connected so that the ball entering in one end will come out of the other.
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Jan 18, 2024

Orbital

A space indicating electron probability distribution.
Electrons in the s orbital have a spherical distribution.
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Orbit

A sphere of influence; an area or extent of activity, interest, or control.
In the post WWII era, several eastern European countries came into the orbit of the Soviet Union.
The convenience store was a heavily travelled point in her daily orbit, as she purchased both cigarettes and lottery tickets there.
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Orbit

(anatomy) The bony cavity in the skull of a vertebrate containing the eyeball.
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Orbit

(zoology) The area around the eye of a bird or other animal.
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Orbit

(mathematics) A collection of points related by the evolution function of a dynamical system. Category:en:Curves
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Orbit

The subset of elements of a set X to which a given element can be moved by members of a specified group of transformations that act on X.
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Orbit

(informal) A state of increased excitement, activity, or anger.
Dad went into orbit when I told him that I'd crashed the car.
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Orbit

(astronomy) To circle or revolve around another object or position.
The Earth orbits the Sun.
The satellite orbits the Lagrange point.
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Jan 18, 2024

Orbit

To place an object (e.g. a satellite) into an orbit around a planet.
A rocket was used to orbit the satellite.
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Orbit

To move around the general vicinity of something.
The harried mother had a cloud of children orbiting her, begging for sweets.
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Orbit

To move in a circle.
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Orbit

(transitive) To center (around).
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Orbit

To continue to follow and/or engage with someone via social media after breaking up with them.
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Orbit

The path described by a heavenly body in its periodical revolution around another body; as, the orbit of Jupiter, of the earth, of the moon.
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Orbit

An orb or ball.
Roll the lucid orbit of an eye.
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Orbit

The cavity or socket of the skull in which the eye and its appendages are situated.
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Orbit

The skin which surrounds the eye of a bird.
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Orbit

The (usually elliptical) path described by one celestial body in its revolution about another;
He plotted the orbit of the moon
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Orbit

A particular environment or walk of life;
His social sphere is limited
It was a closed area of employment
He's out of my orbit
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Orbit

An area in which something acts or operates or has power or control:
The range of a supersonic jet
The ambit of municipal legislation
Within the compass of this article
Within the scope of an investigation
Outside the reach of the law
In the political orbit of a world power
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Orbit

The path of an electron around the nucleus of an atom
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Orbit

The bony cavity in the skull containing the eyeball
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Orbit

Move in an orbit;
The moon orbits around the Earth
The planets are orbiting the sun
Electrons orbit the nucleus
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Orbit

The gravitational path of a body around another in space.
The moon's orbit around the Earth takes about 27 days.
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Orbit

A trajectory followed by satellites or planets.
Scientists tracked the satellite's orbit around Mars.
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Orbit

The repeated path a celestial object takes in space.
Comets have highly elliptical orbits around the sun.
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Orbit

A regular, predictable path in space.
Observatories monitor the orbit of distant planets.
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Repeatedly Asked Queries

What is an orbit?

An orbit is the path that a celestial body follows around another body in space.
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Feb 06, 2024

What does orbital mean?

An orbital is a region around an atom's nucleus where electrons are likely to be found.
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Feb 06, 2024

What shapes can orbitals have?

Orbitals can have shapes like s (spherical), p (dumbbell), d, and f.
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Feb 06, 2024

Is orbit a concept in chemistry?

No, orbit is a concept in astronomy, not typically used in chemistry.
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How is an orbit determined?

An orbit is determined by gravitational forces and the motion of celestial bodies.
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Do all planets have the same type of orbit?

No, different planets have various types of orbits depending on their distance from the sun and other factors.
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Feb 06, 2024

Do orbitals exist in astronomy?

No, orbitals are a concept in quantum physics and chemistry, not in astronomy.
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Feb 06, 2024

What defines an orbital in an atom?

An orbital is defined by the probability distribution of an electron's position.
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Can orbits change?

Yes, orbits can change due to gravitational influences and other forces.
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Are orbitals static?

Orbitals represent probabilities and are not static locations for electrons.
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Are orbits always circular?

No, orbits can be circular, elliptical, parabolic, or hyperbolic.
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How are orbitals related to electron energy?

Orbitals correspond to different energy levels of electrons in an atom.
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What is a geostationary orbit?

A geostationary orbit is a circular orbit above the Earth's equator, with a period equal to the Earth's rotation.
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What is the role of orbitals in chemical bonding?

Orbitals determine how atoms bond and share electrons in molecules.
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What factors affect an orbit?

Factors like mass, velocity, and gravitational forces affect an orbit.
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How do satellites maintain their orbit?

Satellites maintain their orbit through balance between gravity and their forward motion.
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Can orbitals be observed directly?

Orbitals cannot be observed directly; they are inferred from scientific experiments.
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What does the term 'hybrid orbital' mean?

A hybrid orbital is a combination of standard orbitals in atoms, leading to new shapes for bonding.
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Can the orbit of a comet be predicted?

Yes, the orbit of comets can be predicted using laws of motion and gravity.
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Do orbitals affect the properties of elements?

Yes, the arrangement of electrons in orbitals affects an element's chemical properties.
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Feb 06, 2024

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Shumaila Saeed
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Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed, an expert content creator with 6 years of experience, specializes in distilling complex topics into easily digestible comparisons, shining a light on the nuances that both inform and educate readers with clarity and accuracy.

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