# What can we understand by the energy of an orbital? Say 2s has more energy than 1s?

Saurabh Kumar
8 years ago
the 1s orbital

Note: In this diagram (and the orbital diagrams that follow), the nucleus is shown very much larger than it really is. This is just for clarity.

Suppose you had a single hydrogen atom and at a particular instant plotted the position of the one electron. Soon afterwards, you do the same thing, and find that it is in a new position. You have no idea how it got from the first place to the second.

You keep on doing this over and over again, and gradually build up a sort of 3D map of the places that the electron is likely to be found.

In the hydrogen case, the electron can be found anywhere within a spherical space surrounding the nucleus. The diagram shows a cross-section through this spherical space.

95% of the time (or any other percentage you choose), the electron will be found within a fairly easily defined region of space quite close to the nucleus. Such a region of space is called an orbital. You can think of an orbital as being the region of space in which the electron lives.

Note: If you wanted to be absolutely 100% sure of where the electron is, you would have to draw an orbital the size of the Universe!

What is the electron doing in the orbital? We don't know, we can't know, and so we just ignore the problem! All you can say is that if an electron is in a particular orbital it will have a particular definable energy.

Each orbital has a name.

The orbital occupied by the hydrogen electron is called a 1s orbital. The "1" represents the fact that the orbital is in the energy level closest to the nucleus. The "s" tells you about the shape of the orbital. s orbitals are spherically symmetric around the nucleus - in each case, like a hollow ball made of rather chunky material with the nucleus at its centre.

The orbital on the left is a 2s orbital. This is similar to a 1s orbital except that the region where there is the greatest chance of finding the electron is further from the nucleus - this is an orbital at the second energy level.

If you look carefully, you will notice that there is another region of slightly higher electron density (where the dots are thicker) nearer the nucleus. ("Electron density" is another way of talking about how likely you are to find an electron at a particular place.)

2s (and 3s, 4s, etc) electrons spend some of their time closer to the nucleus than you might expect. The effect of this is to slightly reduce the energy of electrons in s orbitals. The nearer the nucleus the electrons get, the lower their energy.

3s, 4s (etc) orbitals get progressively further from the nucleus.