Letters to Nature

Nature 429, 47-49 (6 May 2004) | doi:10.1038/nature02531; Received 3 February 2004; Accepted 1 April 2004

The central dusty torus in the active nucleus of NGC 1068

W. Jaffe1, K. Meisenheimer2, H. J. A. Röttgering1, Ch. Leinert2, A. Richichi3, O. Chesneau2, D. Fraix-Burnet4, A. Glazenborg-Kluttig5, G.-L. Granato6, U. Graser2, B. Heijligers1, R. Köhler2, F. Malbet4, G. K. Miley1, F. Paresce3, J.-W. Pel7, G. Perrin8, F. Przygodda2, M. Schoeller9, H. Sol8, L. B. F. M. Waters10,11, G. Weigelt12, J. Woillez8 & P. T. de Zeeuw1

  1. Leiden Observatory, Niels Bohrweg 2, 2333 CA Leiden, The Netherlands
  2. Max Planck Institut für Astronomie, Königstuhl 17, D–69117 Heidelberg, Germany
  3. European Southern Observatory, Karl Schwarzschild Strasse 2, D–85748 Garching bei München, Germany
  4. Observatoire de Grenoble, BP 53, F-38041 Grenoble, Cedex 9, France
  5. Stichting ASTRON, 7990 AA Dwingeloo, Netherlands
  6. Astronomical Observatory of Padua, Vicolo dell'Osservatorio 5, I-35122 Padova, Italy
  7. Kapteyn Astronomical Institute, Postbus 800, 9700 AV Groningen, The Netherlands
  8. Observatoire de Paris-Meudon, 92195 Meudon, France
  9. European Southern Observatory, Casilla 19001, Santiago, Chile
  10. Astronomical Institute "Anton Pannekoek", Univ. of Amsterdam, Kruislaan 403, 1098 SJ Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  11. Instituut voor Sterrenkunde, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Celestijnenlaan 200B, B-3001 Heverlee, Belgium
  12. Max-Planck-Institut fur Radioastronomie, Auf dem Hugel 69, D-53121 Bonn, Germany

Correspondence to: W. Jaffe1 Email: jaffe@strw.leidenuniv.nl

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 powerhouse1, 2. 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 (320 K) 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 AGN3, this observation requires a continual input of kinetic energy to the cloud system from a source coexistent with the AGN.


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