Question
Thu November 10, 2011 By: Jashojit Sarma Mazumdar

what is the difference between orbital and orbit?

Expert Reply
Fri November 11, 2011
An orbit is the path an electron takes around an atom and an orbital is a shape resulting in the combination of all probable orbits.
 
For example, let us take the Earth orbiting the Sun. Each year the Earth completely revolves once around the Sun. The specific path that you could draw out is the orbit.
But each year, the Earth takes a slightly different path--whether it is slightly high or lower, or closer or further away than last year. You can physically compare the two different orbits that the Earth took. Now, let us say that you recorded the Earth's orbit every year for a million years and then you combined all of these orbits into one massive shape. You would result in something that looked pretty much like a big doughnut. This doughnut would be the orbital that Earth is confined to, much the same an electron's orbit is to the nucleus. I believe that the shape of an orbital is defined as where the electron is predicted to be 99.99% of the time (or some very high probability). So that resulting shape is the orbital. 
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