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adjective (1)

or·​bit·​al ˈȯr-bə-tᵊl How to pronounce orbital (audio)
: 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
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


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adjective (2)

: 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


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plural orbitals
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
To follow up on the previous study, Observatoire de Paris astronomer Dr. Valéry Lainey and his colleagues analyzed the orbital motion data to see which scenario was most likely. Ashley Strickland, CNN, 7 Feb. 2024 Mimas’s response to the gravitational pull from Saturn would ever so slightly differ depending on the moon’s internal structure, leading to distinct yet subtle changes to its orbital drift around the planet. Robin George Andrews, Scientific American, 7 Feb. 2024 With its orbital period now cut to 33 days, these stunning flybys represent the twilight of Juno’s journey. Christian Thorsberg, Smithsonian Magazine, 7 Feb. 2024 After its launch, the 10.5-foot-long spacecraft is designed to reach a 676.5 km (420 mi) orbital altitude with a 98-degree inclination, according to NASA. Leah Sarnoff, ABC News, 6 Feb. 2024 Pristine configuration Scientists discovered six exoplanets that revolve around a star in a rare pattern called orbital resonance, according to a study published in the journal Nature. Devika Rao, The Week Us, theweek, 31 Jan. 2024 But in others, orbital inequality is more exaggerated than ever. Khari Johnson, WIRED, 24 Jan. 2024 In addition, if anything starts to happen with satellites that are in a low-Earth orbit, and the atmosphere there heats up because of the geomagnetic storm activity, measures can be taken to keep satellites at their proper orbital height, Dahl said. Julia Jacobo, ABC News, 22 Jan. 2024 SpaceX will need to tiptoe through this elaborate orbital choreography at least once before Artemis III proceeds. Michael Greshko, Scientific American, 18 Jan. 2024
And those orbitals have an equally specific orientation within the crystal. John Timmer, Ars Technica, 4 Aug. 2023 Theoretical considerations suggest that electrons from specific orbitals of the atoms within the crystal will be doing the superconducting. John Timmer, Ars Technica, 4 Aug. 2023 The attack left the victim with a fractured orbital, a broken nose, swelling and bruising to his face, San Diego police spokesperson Mark Herring said. Karen Kucher, San Diego Union-Tribune, 6 Dec. 2023 For this, the ideal atoms are ones that have unpaired electrons swarming around the nucleus in what are known as 3d orbitals. IEEE Spectrum, 15 Nov. 2023 With a high-power ultraviolet laser, the scientists excited the electrons of these atoms to Rydberg orbitals far from their atomic nuclei. IEEE Spectrum, 15 Oct. 2023 With pulses that short, observers can harness a free-electron laser to see individual atoms in motion, molecules making and breaking bonds, and even electron orbitals in excitation. IEEE Spectrum, 26 Sep. 2023 As researchers discovered decades ago, magnetic strength can be greatly improved by adding to the crystalline lattice atoms with unpaired electrons in the 4f orbital—notably the rare-earth elements neodymium, samarium, and dysprosium. IEEE Spectrum, 22 Mar. 2023 The research team zeroed in on lutetium based on the fact that the occupancy of its electron orbitals should provide a few more electrons that could potentially participate in forming Cooper pairs, possibly making superconductivity easier. John Timmer, Ars Technica, 8 Mar. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'orbital.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History



derivative of orbital entry 1

First Known Use

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

Time Traveler
The first known use of orbital was circa 1541

Dictionary Entries Near orbital

Cite this Entry

“Orbital.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/orbital. Accessed 22 Feb. 2024.

Medical Definition


or·​bit·​al ˈȯr-bət-ᵊl How to pronounce orbital (audio)
: a subdivision of a nuclear shell containing zero, one, or two electrons

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