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Question Video: Identifying the Image That Represents an s Orbital Chemistry

Which of the images shows an s orbital?

01:54

Video Transcript

Which of the images shows an s orbital?

In this question, we want to determine which figure describes an s type atomic orbital. An atomic orbital is a three-dimensional mathematical expression that describes the most likely location of an electron.

Atomic orbitals are often depicted as contour plots. The contour surfaces enclose 90 or 95 percent of the electron probability. They essentially show the most likely location of an electron. The subsidiary quantum number determines the shape of an atomic orbital. The letter 𝑙 denotes this quantum number. It can be an integer from zero to 𝑛 minus one. 𝑛 is the principal quantum number.

An atomic orbital has a dumbbell shape when 𝑙 equals one. When 𝑙 is greater than one, the atomic orbitals take on more complex shapes. The orbital has a simple spherical shape when 𝑙 equals zero. Atomic orbitals of different subsidiary quantum numbers have different names. For example, when 𝑙 equals two, the atomic orbital has a four-leafed clover shape and is called a d orbital. When 𝑙 equals one, chemists refer to the orbital as a p orbital. When 𝑙 equals zero, the spherical orbital is called an s orbital.

Answer choices (B) and (C) appear to be p orbitals. Answer choice (D) looks like a d orbital. Answer choice (E) looks like a more complex orbital and could correspond to a subsidiary quantum number greater than two. Answer choice (A) is the only image that looks like the spherical shape of an s orbital. Therefore, the correct answer is answer choice (A).

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