Electron energy levels

I'm wondering just how many orbitals an element may have. Is it only eight? If so, why?


Charles "Doug" Hanson


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there is no limit, in principle, to the number of orbitals an atom can "have".

This is because oribitals are not actual empty things, waiting for electrons to be put into them!

When we say an "orbital", we really just mean a particular shape of vibration that an electrons is existing in.
(at least, that's one way of thinking about it)

if we say an electron is "in an s orbital", we mean it's vibrating around the nucleus in nice spherical shape...
...p oribital are dumbell shapes,
....d orbitals look like they're on psychedelic "d"rugs 0)
....f orbitals are just "f"ar too complicated etc etc
(but you can see pictures of them in text books ;-)

ANYWAYS .... successive orbitals ( = successive modes of vibration) are higher and higher in energy....
.....in real atoms, the electrons jump up and down between different orbitals all the time (this produces the lines you can see in atomic spectra)

Eventually though, if they jump up to high enough modes, they'd have so much energy that the nucleus can't hold onto them anymore -
at this point, the electron has escaped and the atom has been ionised!

Some spectroscopy people study this...... they look at the higher and higher energy lines in the specta.... the lines get closer and closer until they finally merge into a continuous band, where the electron has been ionised. (are these called Rhydberg spectra? I forget.....)

I always try to think of silly analogies ;-)
How about thinking of it like a bus stop?
You could ask "how long can a queue at a bus stop be?"
People might think it's only sensible for the queue to be as long as the number of seats on the bus.
But then some busses are bigger than others.
Anyway, you could in principle have the queue stretching all the way down the street and round the corner.
But the people at the end of the queue wouldn't even be able to see the bus anymore and would probably just wander off -)

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