The Commettes who were hit by a meteor

Rob Hastings on the Paris family with the portentous name – and other unlikely coincidences

Older than our solar system, it had been flying through space for more than four billion years, all the while fated for an eventual collision with Earth – and, to be more specific, the house of a French family named Commette.

For 11-year-old Hugo Commette, the discovery that the loft of his house on the outskirts of Paris had become the final resting place for an egg-sized meteorite was fascinating enough – astronomers estimate that only about 50 such objects have fallen on France in the past 400 years, and the chances of a house strike are infinitesimal – but his family's celestial name only made it seem all the more extraordinary. The meteorite punched a hole in the roof of the house in the summer, but was discovered only this week when the family returned from holiday. Most meteoroids, as the falling objects are known, disintegrate in the atmosphere, and only five or six are recovered on the surface. Now revealed to the world, the story has captured the imagination of more than just young Hugo, as the case of the Commette comet has crashed into the archives as one of the world's greatest coincidences.

Strange but true: Six more freak occurrences

The two faces of Dennis the Menace

Speak to an American about Dennis and the Menace and they will not be thinking of the character familiar to us for his red-and-black-striped top and dog named Gnasher. Instead, they may recall a younger cartoon boy of the same name, with dungarees and a dog called Ruff. Strangely, they first appeared on opposite sides of the Atlantic in the same week of 1951, with no espionage or plagiarism in sight.

Don't go sailing if your name is Richard Parker

In 1838, Edgar Allan Poe published The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, a seafaring tale in which three shipwreck survivors decide their only chance of survival is to eat their fourth comrade, Richard Parker. The story is little known these days but for the grisly coincidence behind its storyline – particularly grisly for the men who boarded the yacht Mignonette in Southampton in 1884. The vessel was wrecked in the Atlantic, leaving only four survivors, three of whom were rescued. The fourth member of their party had not survived – because they had eaten him. His name? Richard Parker.

Catching the baby

Joseph Figlock was sweeping an alley in Detroit in 1937 when a baby, David Thomas, fell from a fourth-floor window. Figlock broke his fall and the baby survived. When Thomas plummeted towards the pavement again a year later, who saved the day? Figlock.

The 'Jim Twins'

In 1979 an American psychology professor came across twins who had been separated at birth but led startlingly similar lives. Both sets of adoptive parents had named them James, both boys had dogs named Toy, both married twice – first to wives named Linda, secondly to wives named Betty – one named his son James Alan while the other went for James Allan, both drove the same blue model of Chevrolet, smoked the same cigarettes and drank the same beer.

Dead Presidents

For two former US Presidents to die on the same day is remarkable, but all the more so when and Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both passed away on 4 July 1826, the 50th anniversary of their country's independence.

Anthony Hopkins' lucky book

After hearing that he may have scooped a part in the film of the novel The Girl from Petrovka, Hopkins scoured London for a copy with no luck. But, to his astonishment, he later found a copy on the London Underground. And not just any copy – one that had belonged to and been signed by the author, George Feifer.