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atomic orbital

noun, Physics, Chemistry.
See under orbital (def 2).


[awr-bi-tl] /ˈɔr bɪ tl/
of or relating to an orbit.
Physics, Chemistry.
  1. a wave function describing the state of a single electron in an atom (atomic orbital) or in a molecule (molecular orbital)
  2. the electron in that state.
Origin of orbital
1535-45; < New Latin, Medieval Latin orbitālis; see orbit, -al1
Related forms
interorbital, adjective
interorbitally, adverb
preorbital, adjective
superorbital, adjective
transorbital, adjective
unorbital, adjective
unorbitally, adverb Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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British Dictionary definitions for atomic orbital


of or denoting an orbit
(of a motorway or major road circuit) circling a large city
a region surrounding an atomic nucleus in which the probability distribution of the electrons is given by a wave function
an orbital road
Derived Forms
orbitally, adverb
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Contemporary definitions for atomic orbital

in chemistry, the space in an atom occupied by an electron, a subdivision of the available space within an atom for an electron to orbit the nucleus; also, a mathematical function used to describe the behavior of an electron in an atom

Usage Note

science's 21st Century Lexicon
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Word Origin and History for atomic orbital



1540s, with reference to eye sockets; 1839 with reference to heavenly bodies; from orbit (n.) + -al (1).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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atomic orbital in Medicine

orbital or·bit·al (ôr'bĭ-tl)
Relating to an orbit.

The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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atomic orbital in Science

A partial description of the quantum state of an electron (or other particle) orbiting the nucleus of an atom. Different orbitals have different shapes and orientations, depending on the energy of the electron, its angular momentum, and its magnetic number. Orbitals have no clear boundaries; the shape of an orbital, as depicted graphically, shows only the regions around the nucleus in which an electron has a relatively high probability of being found. No more than two electrons (each with opposite spin) can coexist in a single orbital because of the Pauli exclusion principle. See also probability wave, quantum number, shell..

The American Heritage® Science Dictionary
Copyright © 2002. Published by Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.
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