APEX Stories

Eclipse Hunting

This past summer’s total solar eclipse was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many.  For me, it was a way to bond with my 4 year old son through science.

Prior to this summer, I had never seen a total solar eclipse.  They are very rare, occurring anywhere from 2 to 4 times per year, but only for a very narrow, 50 mile strip of earth that doesn’t always fall over land.  Growing up, I had the opportunity to experience lots of cool astronomical phenomena, like meteor showers and seeing Jupiter’s moons, but one thing I had never seen was a total eclipse.  I figured that taking my son to see the eclipse would be a great opportunity to have father-son time, and share my love for science with him.

When I heard about the Great American Eclipse of 2017, I knew it was time to make plans and prepare.

It was probably March or April of last year when I started getting the idea in my head of going to see the eclipse.  I talked to my buddy and we made plans to drive down to see it.  We knew that Carbondale, IL was going to be super busy, and anticipating crazy crowds, I decided to go for somewhere a bit less intense.  I made reservations for a hotel in Kirkwood, MO, just outside of St. Louis, but inside of the path of totality!  That way, if we wanted to, we could just stand in our hotel parking lot and be in totality.

Before we left, I told Jacob about the eclipse and showed him how the Moon covers the Sun.  We took out my telescope and looked at the Moon so he could see that it was almost the same size in the sky as the Sun. (no, we didn’t look at the Sun through the telescope!)

Checking out the Moon!

We also did a lot of cool eclipse stuff in the time leading up to totality.  At home, I had built an eclipse box.  I just took an old diaper box and cut a hole at one end.  Jake helped me put on some aluminum foil over the hole, and punch a hole in the foil with a pin.  You can then use the box to project really cool images of the Sun (more on this later).  I even had an opportunity to share my story during an interview with Jim Williams from CBS 2 Chicago.  I felt very fortunate to be able to represent everyone from Chicago going to see the eclipse, both as a teacher and as a father.

Preparations were made, and we headed down to St. Louis for the weekend.

We packed all five of us (two adults and three kids 7 and under) into a minivan and drove down to St. Louis, with a quick stop at Champaign to visit our alma mater and have lunch.  While in town, we went to the St. Louis Children’s Museum, spent a lot of time at the hotel pool, and ate lots of steak!  Finally, it was the morning of the eclipse.  We were invited to an eclipse party at a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere with a great view!  In the map below, you can see how the eclipse party was located much closer to the red line which is the maximum path of totality.  In other words, it’s where the Sun stays eclipsed for the longest amount of time (almost 2 min 40 sec).

Our hotel parking lot, in Kirkwood (SW of downtown St. Louis), could provide views of totality!

We got really lucky with the weather.  Although it was hot and humid, that’s par for the course for St. Louis in August.  But the skies were mostly clear with isolated storms to our east, near Carbondale.  We arrived in Washington and set up shop.  My friend brought a camera to set up to take some time-lapse images but I was just happy to be there with my son and share this elusive experience with him.

Rockin’ the eclipse glasses!


They say that there are no words for how cool seeing an eclipse is.  They were right.

It’s really hard to describe how strange and magical seeing a total eclipse is in person.  When the Moon first appears to make contact with the Sun, you don’t even notice.  If you look at the Sun through your eclipse glasses, after a while you can see a crescent-shaped bite taken out of the Moon.  And you can see a cool effect if you look at the image of the Sun made by overlapping leaves, kinda like the eclipse box but with many more holes and images.  Usually these images of the Sun are perfectly circular, but not when there’s an eclipse!

Partially eclipsed images of the Sun, made by overlapping leaves

Then, as you get close to totality, the light outside takes on a strange quality.  There’s no words to describe it but it sort of reminds you of twilight.  It’s still very dangerous to look directly at the Sun, even when it’s close to totality.  You will damage your eyesight because you don’t have nerves for pain for sunlight (when there’s not an eclipse, you will tend to look away from the Sun and you’ll squint because it’s just so bright).  A few minutes before totality, it looked a bit like this picture.  I just noticed, while writing this, that there is a secondary image of the Sun near the roof of the house!  I wonder if this was an internal image made by my cell phone camera?

A few minutes before totality (#nofilter!).  Can you see the secondary image of the almost totally-eclipsed Sun?

Totality itself was breathtaking.  It looked like just after sunset, but in 360 degrees.  There was a sort of perpetual twilight.  They say if you are up on a hill you can see the shadow of the Sun racing towards you, or feel the temperature drop several degrees.  We didn’t get to see all that, but you could hear crickets chirping and a bird fell asleep on a telephone wire, thinking it was nighttime.  It really was a magical experience, one I hope to repeat with my family in April 2024 for the next one!

I’m so thankful that I was able to share this experience with my son.

Jacob and I had such a great time.  From practicing wearing eclipse glasses, explaining how eclipses happen to Jim Williams, to taking in the event, he really had a blast.  Growing up, I was inspired in many ways, and I hope to be that source of inspiration for my kids as they grow.

About Our Experts

Meet Dan DuBrow, Founder of APEX Tutoring

I’m really excited to publish my first blog post about something I’ve been so passionate about for a long time.  I founded APEX Tutoring to help support students taking honors/AP math & science courses because of my own great experiences teaching and learning.

I know what it’s like to be a motivated, hard-working student.

As a middle and high school student, for the most part, learning came pretty easy to me.  I remember being bored in my 7th grade pre-algebra class, which I explained to my teacher.  She got me an algebra book and started giving me assignments, and within a few months, I had worked through the algebra curriculum.  So in 8th grade, I took math at the high school.  Every day, my mom would pick me up from my middle school, drive me to the high school for the course, sit and wait in the car while I was in class, and then drive me back after it was finished.  Come to think of it, I didn’t appreciate fully the time she took out of her day to drive me around.  (I certainly do now, Mom!)

My Mom, dropping me off at the high school for math class.

In high school, I took mostly honors classes, as well as a number of AP classes – my high school didn’t offer many.   I was a year ahead for math for all of high school and I was so into my physics class that I ended up taking a second year of physics as an independent study.  I eventually majored in Physics in college at the University of Illinois (with a minor in education).  So I understand what it’s like to have a love of learning!

I have a lot of experience teaching motivated students.

For two decades, my passion as a professional educator has been helping hard-working students of all ability levels learn tough subjects such as calculus and physics.  For the past 16 years as a classroom and online physics teacher, I’ve challenged my students to push themselves and reach their goals.  My students have gone on to become engineers at Google, doctors and lawyers, as well as teachers themselves at my school!

I am also active in teaching courses online for highly motivated, hard-working students.  I teach for Northwestern’s Center for Talent Development (AP Physics C) as well as Johns Hopkins’ Center for Talented Youth (Physics Honors).  These students are often taking these courses because they are so motivated and interested in math & science that they relish the extra challenge.  My job is to keep them motivated, so I design fun but tough lab experiments, give them challenging homework assignments, and supplement their learning with over 100 instructional videos that I’ve made.  Even when I’m not in the classroom, I find inspiration to bring real-life examples of Physics into my teaching.

Infinite Mirrors, a fun Physics Experiment you can do at home!

I can completely empathize with students who are following a similar track as I did, and need a little bit more support.  There are a lot of tutors out there, but finding somebody who understands the learning goals and needs of students like me can be more challenging, and this is why I founded APEX Tutoring.  I look forward to working with you!

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