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Atoms that have eight electrons in their outer shell are extremely stable. It can't be because both the $s$ and the $p$ orbitals are full, because then an atom with 13 or 18 valence electrons would be extremely stable. ($d$ has 10, and 5 is also stable).

Why is it that atoms with eight electrons in the outer shell are extremely stable?

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First, this isn't quite true. It is true for the first row of the periodic chart (from lithium to neon). It is almost true for the second row (from sodium to argon. But there are exceptions there. Beyond that it really isn't true at all for the elements beyond the first two columns.

The reason for the increased stability for the first two rows lies in quantum mechanics. Classically we can note that there are no $d$ electrons there. Another ways of looking at it from a classical point of view is that the early elements are too small to allow too many other atoms or groups of atoms around them. That tends to go away as you go down the periodic chart and the atoms get "fatter". A typical example is chloroplatinic acid which has six chlorines around it.

Most transition metals also can have more than four groups around them as well.

I suspect that this isn't an exceptionally useful explanation. As I said, the answer really lies in quantum mechanics. In looking up "molecular orbital theory", one reference can be found here.

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