# How does a 2px orbital differ from a 2py orbital?

May 7, 2014

An atomic orbital is a mathematical function that describes the wave-like behavior of either one electron or a pair of electrons in an atom. This function can be used to calculate the probability of finding any electron of an atom in any specific region around the atom's nucleus. The term may also refer to the physical region or space where the electron can be calculated to be present, as defined by the particular mathematical form of the orbital.

Each orbital in an atom is characterized by a unique set of values of the three quantum numbers n, ℓ, and m, which correspond to the electron's energy, angular momentum, and an angular momentum vector component. Any orbital can be occupied by a maximum of two electrons, each with its own spin quantum number. The simple names s orbital, p orbital, d orbital and f orbital refer to orbitals with angular momentum quantum number ℓ = 0, 1, 2 and 3 respectively. These names, together with the value of n, are used to describe the electron configurations.

They are derived from the description by early spectroscopists of certain series of alkali metal spectroscopic lines as sharp, principal, diffuse, and fundamental.

At any given moment, an electron can be found at any distance from the nucleus and in any direction according to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. The p orbital is a dumbbell-shaped region describing where an electron can be found, within a certain degree of probability. The shape of the orbital depends on the quantum numbers associated with an energy state.

All p orbitals have l = 1, with three possible values for m (-1, 0, +1). The wave function is complex when m = 1 or m = -1. 