On March 20, 2015, there was a full solar eclipse that was partially visible in Germany. Leica Camera AG issued an invitation to observe the event through their spotting scopes. Oliver Stiehler, a development engineer in the field of sport optics, also presented an astronomic sun telescope. In addition to the live image on a notebook, explained the pros and cons vis-à-vis spotting scopes for observing Earth.

Q: Mr. Stiehler, can you please explain what happens during a solar eclipse?
A: This is how it goes: the Earth is orbiting around the sun and the moon orbits around the Earth. This leads to times when the moon moves in a precise line between the sun and the Earth, so that the moon casts a shadow on the Earth. Because the moon is much smaller than Earth and is also still very far away, its shadow only ever covers a small area of our planet’s surface, which means that it is very rare to have a full solar eclipse in Germany. A larger area is covered by parts of the moon’s shadow, so that on March 20 we experienced a partial solar eclipse with around 80% cover.

Q: How did you come up with the idea of observing the solar eclipse with sport optic products?
A: Our spotting scopes offer an enlargement of 25x to 50x, and with an extender even up to 90x. That’s the right enlargement to get the whole sun into the frame. Equipped with a special astro-solar transparency purchased in any amateur astronomy store, our spotting scopes are the perfect optical observation instruments for this spectacular natural phenomenon. Some binoculars were also equipped with the astro-solar transparency. I think it’s obvious that an optics company like Leica Camera AG, should make a statement for the general public by organizing this kind of event. Despite the initial mist, we were able to show a few hundred visitors the solar eclipse with the help of our products.
Q: What can a Leica spotting scope do better than an astronomic telescope?
A: Compared to the very sensitive astronomic telescopes, spotting scopes are robust, shockproof and waterproof. Because they can be folded up, they’re very compact and fit into any travel bag. An observer can take them anywhere. Contrary to most astronomic telescopes, the images are presented upright and true sided, which means that the observer is well oriented. Thanks to the developments and refinements over many years, spotting scopes offer enormous contrast, by which they even show a brilliant image during the daytime.

Q: Have you seen a solar eclipse live before?
A: Unfortunately not, not with the moon in front of it, but I watched the transit of Venus in 2012 when at sunrise, Venus passed over the disk of the sun. Because of bad weather conditions, I went especially to the Baltic Sea to observe the event. Being an amateur astronomer and photographer, it was a unique and extremely emotional moment for me, as Venus will not be crossing the sun again until 2117.
Q: What can I see with a Leica spotting scope during a partial solar eclipse?
A: Whilst the moon moves across the disk of the sun, you can recognize sunspots and flairs. If you look carefully at the edge of the moon, you can see unevenness – it’s the moon’s craters and mountains that are about half the height of Mount Everest. It’s also worth checking the sun when there isn’t a solar eclipse: groups of new sunspots develop all the time and their appearance changes daily. There’s always something new to discover.

Q: Can I also explore the night sky with a Leica spotting scope?
A: Our spotting scopes are also good for observing the stars at night. You can discover all kinds of objects, like the moon, the planet Jupiter with its four biggest moons and great bands of clouds, Saturn with its well-known ring system. Depending on the time of observation, you can see Venus as a small ball, a half moon or a sickle – that’s really spectacular. You can see Mars every two years, when it has drawn closer to Earth. On Mars you can also recognize the polar cap, which is often covered by ‘ice’ (frozen carbon dioxide) and shines very brightly. Brighter gas clouds, such as the well-known Orion Nebula, can be seen very well with the big APO Televid 82. The Andromeda Galaxy – our neighbour galaxy – is also very visible with our spotting scopes and binoculars.
Q: Where would you prefer to be to observe the next solar eclipse?
A: One might be able to combine one in the coming years with a vacation in the United States. I’d prefer it to be a total solar eclipse: during the totality, which usually only lasts one or two minutes, you can look directly at the sun’s corona. This is an experience I haven’t had yet.

Q: Are there other natural phenomena that you’d like to observe?
A: I’d like to see and photograph the Aurora Borealis in Finland. It must be really impressive to see up there. The Aurora in Finland is not as faint as here in Germany; you can see it with the naked eye and it’s very dynamic.

Q: Are you planning further events of this type?
A: At the moment there are no astronomy-related events planned. One could consider observing a lunar eclipse or generally looking at the moon and planets with our spotting scopes. In the coming year, on May 9, 2016, Mercury will pass in front of the disk of the sun. This transit of Mercury will be visible for the whole afternoon. Maybe it will be the next opportunity to prove the possibilities of our products in relation to astronomy. The first astronomic event we organized was very much appreciated by our visitors – so it certainly suggests holding further ones open to the public.
Thank you for your time, Oliver!
– Leica Internet Team
Read the interview in its original German.