Bryce T. Bolin
NASA Postdoctoral Program Fellow - Goddard Space Flight Center
Welcome! I am a NASA Postdoctoral Program Fellow at Goddard Space Flight Center (GFSC). My research focuses on observations of asteroids and comets in the Solar System with wide-field surveys as well as their follow-up with ground and space-based facilities. Please see the other sections of my site for more information and feel free to contact me here if you have questions regarding my work.
I graduated in mid-2018 with a Ph.D. in astrophysics from l'Université Côte d'Azur where the topic of my thesis was on the dynamics of asteroid families and identifying the oldest asteroid families. Before studying in France, I was a research analyst at the University of Hawaii's Institute for Astronomy where I worked with the Pan-STARRS survey on near-Earth asteroid observations, the observability of temporarily captured asteroids, and asteroid survey selection effects for next-generation near-Earth asteroid Models.
As a postdoc, I have returned to my roots, hunting asteroids and comets with the Zwicky Transient Facility at Palomar Observatory where I was the Solar System working group lead. I was also the Inner Solar System working group lead for the LSST Solar System Science Collaboration.
Currently, I am a NASA Postdoctoral Program Fellow at GFSC where I am studying primitive asteroids and comets in the Solar System. Please see my Research and Publications pages for more details about my work.
AI-assisted discovery of comets and asteroids
Current and next-generation surveys will provide unprecedented opportunities for the discovery of comets and asteroids. Tools based on artificial intelligence such as neural networks will be invaluable for their discovery. We have developed a comet-discovery pipeline consisting of a convolutional neural network trained on comet data from the Zwicky Transient Facility. This pipeline, called Tails has been used to discover ~10 comets, including the naked eye visible comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF). Please see our paper describing the Tails pipeline (Duev, Bolin et al. 2021, AJ, 161, 218) and our recent letter on the discovery of C/2022 E3 (ZTF) (Bolin et al. 2024, MNRAS:L, 527, 1, L42-L46).
Physical properties of Neptunian Trojans
The original planetary building blocks, known as planetesimals, formed in a disc beyond the current location of Neptune, known as the trans-Neptunian disc. There is evidence that the disc had a dividing line between types of planetesimals with rockier planetesimals forming closer to the sun and icier planetesimals forming further away. However, close encounters between the planetesimals and the planets mixed the planetesimals erasing the location of the dividing line over time. Thus until someone invents a time machine, there is no way for us to directly observe the transition line between the rocky and icy planetesimals. The Neptunian Trojans, planetesimals that share an orbit with the planet Neptune, present a possible solution to our lack of time machine technology. The location of the Neptunian trojans has been stable for the past four billion years so thus act like a time capsule record of the original disc. Our paper presents the measured colours of 18 Neptunian Trojans with telescopes in Hawaii and southern California. Our results indicate that the Neptunian Trojans contain a significant amount of icy objects suggesting that the dividing line was located as close to the Sun as where Neptune is currently located today. Please see our recent letter (Bolin et al. 2023, MNRAS:L, 521, 1, L29-L33).
Characterization of primitive asteroids and comets with ground and space observatories
The discovery of 1I/ʻOumuamua in the Fall of 2017 kicked off the field of interstellar objects study. My team and I were one of the first groups to observe its large amplitude lightcurve indicating its highly-elongated shape (Bolin et al. 2018a, ApJL,852,1,2). The astronomical world was shocked once again at the discovery of the second interstellar object 2I/Borisov which had a clearly active appearance compared to 1I which my team characterized with both ground (Bolin et al. 2020c, AJ, 160, 1, 16 pp.) and space-based (Bolin & Lisse 2020, MNRAS, 497, 4, p. 4031-4041) facilities indicating the volatile species driving its activity and its spin axis orientation. Initially classed as a Jovian Trojan, active Centaur P/2019 LD2 is in the process of transitioning into becoming an inner-Solar system comet within the next few decades before being ejected from the Solar System. This transitioning class of comet gives us the opportunity to characterize the recent start of its activity (Image above taken with Hubble on 2020 April 1 above, Bolin et al. 2021, 161, 3, 15 pp.) as it enters the inner Solar System with NASA's great observatories Hubble and Spitzer in addition to ground-based facilities such as ZTF and Keck.
Recently, I was the first observer in all of astrophysics to be awarded Director's Discretionary time (DD 2747) on the James Webb Space Telescope to observe the giant Oort Cloud Comet C/2014 UN271. These from James Webb will provide coverage spanning the visible to the near-infrared when combined with my Hubble observations of C/2014 UN271 (GO 16878).
Survey observations of near-Earth, near-Sun asteroids and comets
I have led or participated in the discovery of over ~450 near-Earth asteroids and ~50 comets through my involvement in minor body observations with the Zwicky Transient Facility and Pan-STARRS survey projects. Highlights include the discovery of the first-known inner-Venus object, 2020 AV2 (orbital diagram above, discovery circular Bolin et al. 2020a, MPEC 2020-A99, discovery paper Bolin et al. 2022, MNRAS:L, 517, 1, L49-54 and population estimates paper Bolin et al. 2023, Icarus, 394, 115442), one of the closest asteroids to pass by the Earth, 2020 QG (orbital diagram above, discovery circular Bolin et al. 2020b, MPEC 2020-Q51 and NASA press release here), and active asteroidsP/2013 P5 (Bolin et al. 2013, CBET #3639) and P/2013 R3 (Hill et al. 2013, CBET #3658). In addition, I was involved in the creation of the next-generation near-Earth object model (Granvik et al. 2016, Nature, 530, 7590, pp. 303-306, Granvik et al. 2018, Icarus, 312, p. 181-207, and Morbidelli et al. 2020, Icarus, 340, 113631) using a method I co-developed to quantify the selection effects of ground-based surveys (Jedicke et al. 2016, Icarus, 266, p. 173-188).
Identifying asetoroid families
There is a well-known discrepancy in the observed number of asteroid families with ages over two billion years old compared to the number of younger asteroid families. One possible resolution to the discrepancy is that older families are more difficult to detect due to the dispersal of their family fragments over time by secular gravitational interactions with the other bodies of the Solar System and due to non-gravitational forces such as the Yarkovsky effect. My Ph.D. research was to develop a method of detecting asteroid families that were resilient to the processes of dispersing family fragments over secular time-scales called the "V-shape method" (synthetic asteroid family V-shape in image above, see Bolin et al. 2017, Icarus, 282, p. 290-312). This method was applied to a portion of asteroids in the inner-Main Belt which revealed the presence of a previously unknown >4 billion-year-old asteroid family (Delbo' et al. 2017, Science, 357, 6355, 1026-1029). The discovery of this primordial family suggests that all dark asteroids in the inner-Main Belt may share a common origin and that some of the original planetesimals remain in the current day Main Belt. Additional modifications to the V-shape method were used to study size-dependent variations in the physical properties of family fragments, such as thermal inertia (Bolin et al. 2018b, A&A, 611, A82, 27 pp.) as well as the initial ejection velocity of family fragments (Bolin et al. 2018c, MNRAS, 473, 3, p.3949-3968).
Temporarily captured asteroids AKA "minimoons"
Temporarily-captured asteroids, or "minimoons", are captured from the smallest members of the NEO population. At any given time, there are 1-2 meter-scale minimoons in orbit around the Earth (Jedicke et al. 2018, FrASS, 5, 13, p. 13). As of today, there are only two known examples of minimoons, 2006 RH120 and 2020 CD3, both discovered by the Catalina Sky Survey. Present-day all-sky surveys may be able to discover 1-2 minimoons per decade (sample orbital trajectory in the left panel above), but coming all-sky surveys such as Rubin Observatory may be able to discover one every 1-2 months (Bolin et al. 2014, Icarus, 241, p. 280-297). Minimoons represent the smallest members of the known NEO population about which the physical details are sparsely known. Following its discovery, we observed 2020 CD3 with Keck (V band image from the Keck observations in the right panel above) and obtained spectrophotometry of the 1 m size asteroid with wavelengths ranging between 400 nm and 1000 nm. Our observations revealed that the object had a natural origin and a V-type-like spectrum (Bolin et al. 2020d, ApJL, Volume 900, Issue 2, id.L45, 14 pp.) with a minutes-long rotation period making 2020 CD3 one of the smallest asteroids to be physically characterized.
Ph.D. in Astrophysics, Université Côte d'Azur, 2018
M.S. in Physics, University of Central Florida
B.S. in Physics, University of Florida
NASA Postdoctoral Program Fellow, Goddard Space Flight Center, 2022 - present
Postdoctoral Scholar in Astronomy, Division of Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy, California Institute of Technology/IPAC, 2019 - 2022
Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Astronomy, University of Washington, 2018-2019
Press coverage of my work
The redness of Neptunian Trojans
March 28, 2023
Once-in-a-lifetime "Green Comet" C/2022 E3 (ZTF)
January 31, 2023
The discovery of naked eye visible comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF)
January 11, 2023
The discovery of the first inner-Venus asteroid, (594913) 'Ayló'chaxnim
August 25, 2022
Characterization of transitioning Centaur P/2019 LD2 with NASA's Great Observatories
February 25, 2021
Discovery of 2020 QG, one of the closest asteroids to fly-by the Earth
August 18, 2020
Fragmentation of Interstellar Comet 2I/Borisov
April 7, 2020
"It Came From Outside Our Solar System and Now It’s Breaking Up" - The New York Times
Size and Carbon Monoxide-driven activity of 2I/Borisov
October 29, 2019