My daughter reacted first. Sitting on a blanket to my right, she pointed up and behind me into the inky black sky. My wife, sitting to my left, was next.

A micro-second after my daughter, she, too, pointed up and behind me.

Sitting on a lawn chair, I followed their hands, lifting my head back to look straight up just in time to see a bright spark streak from straight over my head into my line of sight in front of me. Right then, a woman twenty feet to my left made a noise as if someone had pinched her.

The shooting star shimmered as it ran across the sky above us at the astronomy viewing site at Broemmelsiek Park in Defiance. Finally, it fizzled out, and the trail of light it left behind faded to black.

It wasn’t visible for even a full second, but in that brief time the dozens of people who had gathered to watch the Perseid meteor shower in mid-August collectively shared a moment, the best among many on that clear night. There was a brief pause as we absorbed what we had just seen. Then a few people clapped in appreciation.

Jim Twellman, the executive director of ASEM looks through the thirty-two-inch Dobsonian telescope, the largest public viewing telescope in Missouri that is available for guests to use during Friday Night Stargazing events.

In normal times, the Astronomical Society of Eastern Missouri (ASEM) hosts stargazing parties every clear Friday night at Broemmelsiek. A viewing party planned for the Perseid meteor shower, the best and most predictable summer show on the celestial calendar, was cancelled because of COVID-19. Dozens of us showed up anyway. We stayed far away from each other as we focused our attention on the heavens.

For an hour or so, I looked up, focused intently on vast nothingness that goes on forever. I saw eight or ten shooting stars. Judging by the oohs and aahs around me, I missed at least another half dozen, even though I rarely looked down.

The viewing area is treeless and lightless and has ten viewing stations at which visitors can plug in their telescopes. On the night of the Perseid meteor shower, I saw only one telescope, and nobody was using it. Telescopes are great for looking at static objects if you know where those static objects are, but are pretty much useless for moving objects arising from unknown places.

During an ASEM viewing night a few years ago, volunteers let visitors use their telescopes, which are typically pointed at various celestial bodies, including the Big Dipper, Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn, depending on the view on a particular night. We all oohed and aahed at those views, too. In December, watch the biggest meteor shower of the year, the Geminids, when it peaks on December 14.

The allure of Broemmelsiek is not limited to casting your view toward the heavens. At a recent daytime visit to Broemmelsiek Park’s 494 acres, I never took my eyes off of the trail right in front of me as I rode mountain bikes with a friend. We zipped down trails, bounced over roots, and sloshed through puddles as sweat pooled on our backs. I’ve also hiked and picnicked there.

But there are dozens of parks at which I can ride my bike, hike, and picnic. Only so many parks also offer an area specifically set aside so I can stare slack-jawed into infinity.

Broemmelsiek Park

Main Park Entrance
1795 Highway DD
Defiance, MO 63341

Astronomy Viewing Area
1615 Schwede Road
Wentzville, MO 63385

The astronomy viewing area is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Park hours are 7 AM until half an hour after sunset.

Photos // Nancy Lee Gomer, St. Charles County Parks