I'm really confused about orbitals.

I know there's 1s, 2s, 2p, 3s, 3p, 4s, 3d, etc. From my understanding, each of those is an orbital. So for example, carbon has 3 orbitals (1s-2, 2s-2, 3p-2). Is that right?

If it is, now I have a question about EMPTY orbitals- I don't understand this at all. For example, take carbon. Well carbon has 6 electrons and it would be: 1s-2, 2s-2, 2p-2. The p ones have 3 suborbitals, so carbon has one empty SUB-orbital?? But how does any element have an empty orbital? Isn't their outermost orbital the one that has at least one valence electron in it (i.e it's not empty)?

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ zillions of empty orbitals. Look at the spectral series for hydrogen. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydrogen_spectral_series $\endgroup$ – MaxW Sep 28 '16 at 1:22
  • $\begingroup$ So the orbital is not empty, but one of its suborbitals is empty. What is your question? $\endgroup$ – DHMO Sep 28 '16 at 9:45
  • $\begingroup$ I don't think this question deserves the downvotes. The person simply had an issue of nomenclature [suborbitals is the incorrect term (or atleast quite uncommon) while orbitals is the correct term for what he had in mind]. $\endgroup$ – FreezingFire Sep 28 '16 at 19:18

The orbitals are: $$\large 1s,\; 2s,\; 2p_x,\; 2p_y,\; 2p_z,\; 3s,\; 3p_x,\; 3p_y,\; 3p_z,\; 3d_{xy},\; 3d_{yz},\; 3d_{zx},\; 3d_{x^2-y^2},\; 3d_{z^2}\; ...$$ In your example, the electronic configuration of carbon is: $$ \ce{_6^{12}C}=1s^2 \; 2s^2 \; 2p_x^1 \; 2p_y^1 \; 2p_z^0 $$ My point is, the classification is like this: there are four (commonly occuring) types of orbitals, the s-orbitals, the p-orbitals, the d-orbitals and the f-orbitals. The first shell consists of only the $1s$ orbital. The second shell consists of the $2s$ orbital and the three $2p$ orbitals: $2p_x, 2p_y, 2p_z$. Similarly $3d$ is just the blanket name for the five different $3d$ orbitals as mentioned above.

Thus in carbon, the $2p_z$ orbital is empty, and the $2p_x$ and $2p_y$ orbitals are half filled (holding one electron). Actually, you could equivalently left the $2p_x$ or $2p_y$ orbital empty, it doesn't matter.

You may be confused with the naming system of the separate orbitals ("what is this $2p_x$ and $3d_{xy}$ and $3d_{x^2-y^2}$ this guy is talking about?"). Well, they are just names given to the separate $p$ and $d$ orbitals, based on their mathematical nature. (See atomic orbitals on Wikipedia).

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you. What then is a suborbital? I thought the 2px, 2py, 2pz were the 3 suborbitals of the p orbital. $\endgroup$ – heyimaperson Sep 28 '16 at 18:25
  • $\begingroup$ I am hearing the word suborbitals for the first time really...it is not in common use! Ideally you should use the word orbitals (specifically, atomic orbitals) as it is referred to in the Wikipedia page, unless your syllabus demands that specific word. $\endgroup$ – FreezingFire Sep 28 '16 at 19:04

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