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Orbit vs. Orbital: What's the Difference?

Edited by Harlon Moss || By Janet White || Published on December 13, 2023
Orbit is the path of a celestial body or man-made object around another body, while orbital refers to the quantum mechanical behavior of electrons around an atom's nucleus.

Key Differences

Orbit is used in astronomy and space science to describe the path of celestial bodies. While, orbital is a term in quantum physics, describing regions around an atom where electrons are likely to be found.
An orbit is a physical path or trajectory in space, often elliptical. However, an orbital is a theoretical region or cloud-like space around an atom’s nucleus.
Orbits are governed by gravitational forces and laws of motion. Whereas, orbitals are defined by quantum mechanics principles, such as wave functions and probabilities.
Orbits can be visually represented as paths around planets or stars. Orbitals are often represented as complex shapes (like s, p, d, f orbitals) indicating electron presence probability.
Understanding orbits is crucial in space exploration and satellite technology. Orbitals are fundamental in understanding chemical bonding and atomic properties.

Comparison Chart


Path of a celestial body around another.
Region around an atom’s nucleus where electrons are likely.

Scientific Discipline

Astronomy, space science.
Quantum physics, chemistry.

Governing Principles

Gravitational forces, laws of motion.
Quantum mechanics, electron behavior.


Physical trajectories (elliptical, circular).
Probability regions (s, p, d, f shapes).

Practical Application

Satellite trajectories, space missions.
Chemical bonding, atomic interactions.

Orbit and Orbital Definitions


A trajectory of an object under the influence of gravitational force.
Satellites maintain a geostationary orbit to stay over the same area.


Relating to the quantum mechanical description of electron locations.
The p orbital has a dumbbell shape.


In anatomy, the bony socket for the eye.
The orbit protects the eye from physical damage.


In physics, a mathematical function that describes an electron's wave-like behavior.
The shape of an orbital can be predicted using Schrödinger's equation.


The curved path of a celestial body around a star, planet, or moon.
The Earth's orbit around the Sun takes approximately 365 days.


A concept in quantum theory used to explain atomic structure and bonding.
The concept of hybrid orbitals helps explain the structure of methane.


To move around a central point or body.
The moon orbits the Earth every 27 days.


A term used in chemistry to describe electron behavior in atoms.
Molecular orbitals form when atomic orbitals overlap in a molecule.


A sphere of influence or activity.
The new policy fell into the orbit of the finance ministry.


A region in an atom where there is a high probability of finding electrons.
The 1s orbital is the closest to the nucleus in a hydrogen atom.


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


Of or relating to an orbit.


One complete revolution of such a body.


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


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


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


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


Ellipsis of orbital motorway.


(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.


Of or pertaining to an orbit.


Of or relating to an orbit;
Orbital revolution
Orbital velocity


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


Is "orbital" ever used as a noun?

Yes, in physics and chemistry, an "orbital" is a region around an atom where electrons are likely to be found.

Can you give a sentence using "orbital"?

"The electron's orbital determines its energy level and position in an atom."

Is "orbital" related to "orbit"?

Yes, "orbital" is derived from "orbit" and relates to or describes aspects of an orbit.

What does "orbit" mean?

"Orbit" refers to the path of one object around another due to gravitational forces, like a planet around a star.

Does "orbital" have synonyms?

In scientific contexts, synonyms are rare, but in general usage, "related to orbit" can be a synonym.

Can "orbit" be used as a verb?

Yes, "orbit" can be a verb meaning to move around something in a path similar to that of a planet around a sun.

What is an example of "orbit" in a sentence?

"The Earth completes one orbit around the Sun every 365 days."

What is the plural form of "orbit"?

The plural form is "orbits."

What does "orbital speed" mean?

"Orbital speed" is the speed at which an object must travel to maintain its orbit around another object.

How is "orbital" different from "orbit"?

"Orbital" relates to the characteristics or qualities of an orbit, often used in physics to describe electron paths around a nucleus.

What is the adjective form of "orbit"?

The adjective form is "orbital."

Can "orbit" refer to social or business contexts?

Yes, it can metaphorically refer to an area of influence or activity, like "the company's orbit of operations."

What is the origin of the word "orbit"?

It originates from the Latin "orbita," meaning "course, track."

Is there a verb form of "orbital"?

No, "orbital" is primarily an adjective or a noun.

Can "orbit" have a medical meaning?

Yes, in anatomy, "orbit" refers to the cavity or socket of the skull in which the eye and its appendages are situated.

What is an "orbital period"?

It's the time taken for an object to complete one orbit around another object.

Can "orbit" be used in a technological context?

Yes, like referring to satellites orbiting the Earth.

Is "orbital" used in everyday language?

It's mostly used in scientific contexts, but can occasionally appear in everyday language, often metaphorically.

What does "orbital mechanics" refer to?

It's a field of physics that studies the movement of objects in orbit.

How are "orbit" and "orbital" used in astronomy?

"Orbit" refers to the path of a celestial body, while "orbital" describes characteristics of these paths or related concepts.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.

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