It's a lesson we've all learned: "Don't look at the sun or else you'll burn your eyes."

But with a partial solar eclipse in Bakersfield on Aug. 21, how else can you view it?

That's what Bakersfield residents young and old learned Saturday at the Beale Memorial Library, courtesy of the Kern Astronomical Society and several of their members' telescopes.

They pointed and constantly adjusted about eight different telescopes for several hours, showing curious attendees sun spots and flares and educating potential solar eclipse watchers proper sun-viewing techniques.

"Safety, safety, safety," KAS member Don Belflower said. "Oh yeah, did I mention something? Safety."

Belflower had several of his telescopes set up for viewing. One included a Hydrogen Alpha, which filters out different light than other telescopes and shows the "flames" around the sun.

Astronomy Professor Nick Strobel brought a "Solarscope," which is a cardboard box with a telescope and mirror that reflects an image of the sun in the box and allows several people to view the sun at once.

"If you look at the sun briefly, you'll go blind," he said.

That's why it's important to have solar eclipse glasses, a No. 14 welders' pane or a filter over a telescope.

Strobel said he tells his Bakersfield College students to think of a telescope as a magnifying glass.

When they were younger, they probably used a magnifying glass to fry ants or paper, he said.

Concentrating all the sun's energy through a telescope would do much the same thing, Strobel said.

"You'll burn your eye and not feel it," Belflower said, as eyes don't have nerves.

So that burning feeling you get from looking at the sun is from its brightness.

He and other KAS members said even looking through a dark-shaded glass won't help as the filter should also be able to block out ultraviolet and gamma rays.

The society continued educating local Bakersfield viewers with two seminars inside the library.

Oil and gas engineer Rod Guice led the second seminar and explained some of how the sun works and why it's not a good idea to look directly at it.

"The sun is a continual thermal nuclear reaction," Guice told a small group of attendees. "You're looking at a nuclear explosion, and you can't do that."

It's also important to protect those special filters, which include the 3-D-like solar eclipse glasses or solar binoculars, from scratches. Once there's a scratch, it's time to throw it out.

Several states across the U.S. will experience a total or partial solar eclipse on Aug. 21 — an event that hasn't happened in the mainland U.S. in nearly 100 years, said KAS Star Party Coordinator Darren Bly.

The last solar eclipse that touched the U.S. was in 1979 in a small part of Washington, Bly said.

Bly has been a society member for 38 years, having joined at 18 years old. He has been preparing for this eclipse for nearly a decade, doing things like watching weather patterns in areas that will see a total solar eclipse. He booked his hotel room in Idaho a year ago.

"This will probably be the most-seen eclipse ever," Bly said.

He added it's probably because we're so mobile now.

For him, viewing a partial eclipse — like the one Bakersfield will see — is like going to your favorite band's concert and finding the doors locked.

He will be driving from Bakersfield to Idaho so he won't have to worry about the airplane handling his telescope.

Bly is already planning his trip for the next eclipse in 2024, and he's looking forward to the one in 2045 in California.

Bly said it was because of the space program that people in his generation became interested in science. Now, with solar eclipses on the horizon, Bly wonders if they could ignite an interest in science for today's children.

"You never know what sparks a kid," Bly said.

KAS was founded in 1956. Its charter is to "foster interest in astronomy among members, amateur astronomers, and the general public." It holds several educational events at schools and hosts public "Star Parties" in Panorama Park throughout the year.

For more information about KAS or to see upcoming events, visit www.kernastro.org.

Dorothy Mills-Gregg can be reached at (661) 395-7368. Follow her on Twitter via @TBCCityBeat.

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