CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (AP) – NASA proudly announced the birth of the first comet in captivity today. Bow Ling Alley, the daughter of comets Hale-Bopp and Halley, was born at a healthy 154,161 tons and is doing fine, NASA officials said.
Although several comet births have been witnessed before, this is the first time one has been born in captivity – at least on Earth. NASA officials could make no comment on the activities of other, theoretical cosmic civilizations who, if they exist, might have helped to raise comets also, in their own solar systems.
"The baby comet is doing very well," said Dinah Moh, Director of NASA's Relations of Orbital Comets and their Kin (ROCK). "Our geologists have made extensive studies, and they pronounced her as fit as a 154,161-ton fiddle. Bow Ling Alley appears to be a very solid little comet. Right now, we're just letting her spend time with her parents."
NASA obtained both Hale-Bopp and Halley when the comets stranded themelves on a Santa Monica beach in 1997. The comets apparently came down independently of one another, several months apart. NASA rescued both of them and took them to a special base in Antarctica. Scientists estimate that the two mated sometime late last year.
There is evidence that over the centuries, many comets have mysteriously thrown themselves onto the same Santa Monica beach. Cosmologists, geologists, physicists, theologians and ice psychiatrists have all wondered why comets choose to strand themselves in a place where they can no longer move and will almost certainly melt, but no one knows the answer.
Student researchers at UCLA theorized last month that the comets strand themselves on that particular beach out of a desire to be accepted. "They just want some attention and a cameo appearance in an episode of 'Baywatch,'" said the group's leading researcher, I.M. Stoned.
NASA officials generally discredit this theory. "That's something that could only come out of California," Ms. Moh said. "Besides, no one watches 'Baywatch.' It's the most popular, highest-rated, longest-running unwatched show in America. Even the comets know that."
NASA officials plan to keep the comets for another 12 to 18 months before returning them to space. The plan has already met with opposition from environmentalist groups, who claim that the baby comet will not know enough to survive on its own.
"The whole reason NASA got the comets in the first place was because they couldn't take care of themselves," complained Leif N. Skye, founder of the group Interplanetary Cosmic Environment (ICE).
Ms. Moh said that ICE's claims are also unfounded. "They put the 'mental' in 'environmental,'" she said half-seriously. "These comets are now a loving, happy family. They won't be throwing themselves onto any more beaches."
Mr. Skye disagrees. "The comet parents are obviously incapable of taking care of themselves, and they certainly won't be able to teach their offspring how to survive," he said. "You mark my words: within 50 years, Bow Ling Alley will be just another storm and light show in Jupiter's upper atmosphere."
"It hasn't even started to grow its tail, yet," Mr. Skye said sadly.
Bow Ling Alley's release date has not been set, but one NASA official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, tentatively set the date near the middle of 2002.
The Miami Herald contributed to this report (by staying far away from it).