This is an archived article that was published on in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A sound filled Salt Lake City's Clark Planetarium on Monday that staffers hadn't heard in months: shouting third-graders.

School field trips are part of the "soft opening" of the Salt Lake County-owned planetarium's newly renovated and re-engineered exhibit space, beta-testing an array of hands-on lessons in Earth science and astronomy that will open to the public Saturday with a day's worth of special events.

The $3.5 million makeover is the culmination of four years of research and programming, planetarium director Seth Jarvis said. Jarvis and his staff discovered that the best exhibit is one "that is both engaging to the visitor personally, and also stimulates interaction with other people," he said.

The result is a series of exhibits that employs interactive elements, either physical or "digital interactives" — what some people might call video games.

"What people respond to is something they can literally get their hands on," Jarvis said. "It's more than touching it. You kind of have to crank on it."

Take, for example, a lunar lander simulator, where the user must control rockets and side thrusters to safely bring a spacecraft to the moon's surface. The exhibit has three game settings: easy, normal and "NASA mode," in which "the physics are pure — there is no forgiveness," Jarvis said.

Children who try the simulator, Jarvis said, "rapidly discover that they're living in a world where video games are trying to help them out. As soon as they leave that comfortable environment, where they recognize that the universe is indifferent as to whether or not they survive, then their mastery level has to go a lot higher."

Most of the new exhibits were created in-house, Jarvis said.

The animators who create the light shows for the Hansen Dome Theatre, he said, were trained as video game developers, so when they were asked to come up with gamelike exhibits, "they just really lit up," Jarvis said.

Some of the planetarium's classic exhibits — such as the Foucault pendulum or the six-foot-wide Rand McNally globe — date to the 1960s and the old Hansen Planetarium. Even these have been slightly revamped, with new displays to impart fresh information.

Other old exhibits have been modified. The old walk-through displays of the moon and Mars have been revamped, with wall projections and other new technology, to create a landscape of Io, the most volcanic of Jupiter's main moons.

Another new element arrives Friday: The Utah premiere of "Voyage of Time," a 45-minute documentary by director Terrence Malick that depicts the origins of the universe and the evolution of life on Earth.

The atmosphere in the 10,000-square-foot space in The Gateway shopping center is lively, with an almost carnival-like cascade of colors from the brightly lit exhibits.

"We want this place to feel a little weird," Jarvis said.

Twitter: @moviecricket —

Reopening event

The Clark Planetarium is planning a "Ready, Set, Relaunch" party.

When • Saturday, doors open at 10:30 a.m.

Where • Clark Planetarium, 100 S. 400 West, Salt Lake City

Ribbon cutting • An opening ceremony, featuring the return of the planetarium's Apollo 15 moon rock, happens at 10 a.m.

IMAX • Free screenings at the Orbital ATK IMAX Theatre, 11 a.m. to 12:59 p.m.

Hansen Dome Theatre • Free screenings from 11:30 a.m. to 1:29 p.m.; also the 6:45 p.m. screening of "Night Vision" and the 8 p.m. screening of "Rock the Dome: Classic."

Crafts • A free "relaunch" craft activity will be run, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Food • Trucks from the Food Truck League will be parked outside the planetarium, selling food from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.