adjective (1)
or·​bit·​al | \ ˈȯr-bə-tᵊl How to pronounce orbital (audio) \

Definition of orbital

 (Entry 1 of 3)

1 : of, relating to, or forming an orbit (such as the orbit of a moon, planet, or spacecraft) the orbital path of a satellite The Gregorian calendar is purely based on the position of the sun as seen from Earth, and is closely related to the Earth's orbital period.— Martin George In October 1957, a whirling orbital ball known as Sputnik roused Americans from their slumber and set into motion a rethinking of our educational system.— Sam Wineburg Blue Origin is also developing a crew capsule that might carry passengers by year's end. But that capsule is intended for brief up-and-down hops, not orbital flights, by tourists.— Marcia Dunn
2 chiefly British, of a roadway : following a circular path around an urban area The 117-mile orbital motorway encircles London and links to Heathrow and Gatwick airports.— Paul Harper


adjective (2)

Definition of orbital (Entry 2 of 3)

: of, relating to, or located near the orbit of the eye orbital bones He required 23 stitches to his face and had an orbital fracture below his left eye.— Rachel Rosenbaum


\ ˈȯr-bə-tᵊl How to pronounce orbital (audio) \
plural orbitals

Definition of orbital (Entry 3 of 3)

physics : a mathematically described region around a nucleus in an atom or molecule that may contain zero, one, or two electrons Electrons arrange themselves in cloudlike regions around the nucleus called orbitals. These orbitals are designated by numbers for their energy level and letters (s, p, d, f) for their shape.— Beth Mole

Examples of orbital in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Even if the orbitals are distorted by the surface and have different energies, the electrons just swap energy with each other as well. Chris Lee, Ars Technica, "Atoms spin backward while flying along a surface," 23 Sep. 2019 Some electrons are stored in atomic orbitals that look a bit like dumbbells that are at right angles to each other. Chris Lee, Ars Technica, "Atoms spin backward while flying along a surface," 23 Sep. 2019 There is no in-between state, no variation in frequency as would be expected if the electron was initially located in different points in these orbitals. Quanta Magazine, "Solution: ‘Taming Quantum Weirdness’," 10 Mar. 2017 Chemistry is a sort of applied physics, with the behavior of electrons and their orbitals dictating a set of rules for which reactions can take place and what products will remain stable. John Timmer, Ars Technica, "AI plus a chemistry robot finds all the reactions that will work," 18 July 2018 Not mere Center City orbitals, these nonprofit suburban theaters are their own heavenly bodies, with their own individual fields of gravity. John Timpane, Philly.com, "Surprise: There's good theater in the Philly suburbs," 13 Apr. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'orbital.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of orbital

Adjective (1)

1846, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Adjective (2)

circa 1541, in the meaning defined above


1932, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for orbital


derivative of orbital entry 1

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Time Traveler for orbital

Time Traveler

The first known use of orbital was circa 1541

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Cite this Entry

“Orbital.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/orbital. Accessed 21 Apr. 2021.

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More Definitions for orbital



English Language Learners Definition of orbital

British : a highway that goes around a city


or·​bit·​al | \ ˈȯr-bət-ᵊl How to pronounce orbital (audio) \

Medical Definition of orbital

: a subdivision of a nuclear shell containing zero, one, or two electrons

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More from Merriam-Webster on orbital

Nglish: Translation of orbital for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of orbital for Arabic Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about orbital

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