Jaffe, W., Meisenheimer, K., Roettgering, H.J.A., Leinert, Ch., Richichi, A., Chesneau, O., Fraix-Burnet, D., Glazenborg-Kluttig, A., Granato, G.-L., Graser, U., Heijligers, B., Koehler, R., Malbet, F., Miley , G.K., Paresce, F., Pel, J.-W., Perrin, G., Przygodda, F., Schoeller, M., Sol, H., Waters, L.B.F.M., Weigelt, G., Woillez, J., de Zeeuw, P. T.

The central dusty torus in the active nucleus of NGC 1068

Nature, 429, 47 (2004)


Active galactic nuclei (AGNs) display many energetic phenomena-broad emission lines, X-rays, relativistic jets, radio lobes-originating from matter falling onto a supermassive black hole. It is widely accepted that orientation effects play a major role in explaining the observational appearance of AGNs. Seen from certain directions, circum-nuclear dust clouds would block our view of the central powerhouse. Indirect evidence suggests that the dust clouds form a parsec-sized torus-shaped distribution. This explanation, however, remains unproved, as even the largest telescopes have not been able to resolve the dust structures. Here we report interferometric mid-infrared observations that spatially resolve these structures in the galaxy NGC 1068. The observations reveal warm (320K) dust in a structure 2.1 parsec thick and 3.4 parsec in diameter, surrounding a smaller hot structure. As such a configuration of dust clouds would collapse in a time much shorter than the active phase of the AGN, this observation requires a continual input of kinetic energy to the cloud system from a source coexistent with the AGN.

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