Meteorite, Meet Commette: French Family Bags 4.5 Billion Year-Old Space Rock

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Alain Carion presents Martine Commette's meteorite in Paris, October 8, 2011. (Photo: Zuma)

If E.T., Martians, or other beings from outer space exist, at least we can assume they have a sense of humor. Just ask the recipients of the 88-gram meteorite that came crashing into their suburban Paris home recently—a family, as it turns out, with the entirely appropriate name Commette. Indeed, the Commettes’ deftly aimed 4.5 billion year-old gift from the heavens makes you wonder what kind of future surprises tricksters around our galaxy may have in store for folks called the Roquettes—or better yet, the Jetsons.

News of the Commettes’ celestial windfall broke this week after members of the family returned from vacation, noticed water stains in the ceiling, and called a roofer in to look for the source of the leak. Once aloft, the worker discovered a tile so mightily smashed he said “you’d have to be Superman to break (it) like that”, recalled Martine Commette, the 32-year old mother of the family from Draveil, about 15 miles south of Paris. Suspecting the hole was probably made by something other than Clark Kent’s piercing paws, the roofer began inspecting attic space below the broken tile, and soon found a heat-blackened meteorite nestled among insulation pads. The Commettes eventually put in a call to Paris meteorite expert Alain Carion, who—armed with a hack saw and magnet–confirmed the composition and charged state of the ferrous lump as extra-terrestrial.

(READ: New Proof That Comets Watered the Earth.)

“You cut it and look for the little metal grains (of a meteorite) they’re composed of,” Carion told French TV channel TF1  Monday, figuring the Commettes’ heavenly stone is a type known as a chrondite. “It (probably) came from the belt of asteroids between Jupiter and Mars. No rock on Earth has this type of composition.”

What are the odds of a meteorite believed to predate Earth’s solar system striking the suburban Paris home of people with a name like Commette? Steep, to say the least—even in this age of improbable names and of junk periodically falling from space. Carion says only about 50 meteorites have been known to have touched down on French soil in the past 400 years, and that “we’ve never found (one) within an 80 kilometer radius of Paris before”.

Meaning the chances of getting smacked in the tiles with the kind of space clod the Commettes were are even slimmer than the 2.5 million-to-one odds of an individual being struck by lightening (probability that presumably reduces even further when potential victims are limited only to people with electricity-themed names). Chances of winning a national lottery, meanwhile, are a dizzying 20 million to one or higher–making the Commettes’ attic find a statistical wonder far surpassing the exploits of people who’ve become millionaires by picking the right lucky numbers.

(SEE: Iconic images of earth from space.)

Sadly, however, the galaxy’s lagniappe to the Commettes won’t make them as rich as a lottery score might have: meteorites like the 88-gram chunk they bagged tend to sell for around $1,183 per gram. Despite that, whoever may have been responsible for sending their little space wad speeding towards Draveil aren’t hearing any meteorite griping from the Commettes. “There’s something magical… strange about a meteor dropping down on you when you have a name like ours,” a happy Martine Commette told TF1.

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