Clark Planetarium celebrated its fifth anniversary Thursday by showing off two new exhibits and hosting an 11 a.m. event that pitted fifth-graders against former Utah senator and astronaut Jake Garn in a game similar to the Fox network's "Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader" game show.
Garn, edged out by one question by students from the McGillis School, is on the planetarium board. His likeness and Space Shuttle gear are among the planetarium's lobby exhibits.
The planetarium's move from State Street, where it had been the Hansen Planetarium since first opening in 1964, to The Gateway five years ago has been a success as measured both by the number of visitors and the science center's revenues, said director Seth Jarvis. "We're in our third year operating in the black. For a business that would be expected; but for an operation like ours that's really remarkable."
Jarvis then went on to list planetariums in much bigger cities that are struggling or closing down. In Salt Lake, the trend is quite the opposite.
Sales in the Hansen Planetarium's science store were about $130,000 per year when the planetarium moved. A larger store in the new facility now brings in $700,000 per year, Jarvis said. A $3 million operating budget at the Hansen Planetarium is now a $7.4 million budget in the larger, newer Gateway facility at 110 S. 400 West.
Success with corporate sponsors is part of that equation. The new exhibit "Project Constellation," features models of future crew and payload rockets that is sponsored by rocket-motor-manufacturer ATK Launch Systems.
The other new exhibit, however, came straight from the planetarium's operations budget. Occupying center stage in the planetarium lobby, "Science on a Sphere" uses a 5-foot 8-inch sphere illuminated by video projectors that make the sphere look like Earth as seen from space. The globe can also mimic the entire surface of the moon or display high-quality photographic images of other planets.
The new planetarium has had 1.8 million visitors since opening. It remains popular with school groups, despite the increasingly expensive cost of operating buses to get kids there. "Our field-trip schedule is completely full," Jarvis said.
The Clark Planetarium's anniversary celebration continues through April with tickets to its planetarium and IMAX theaters discounted to $5.The planetarium also has big plans for a slightly different anniversary next year: the 400th anniversary of Galileo Galilei's invention of the telescope.