A research team led by Gerd Weigelt from the Max-Planck-Institut für Radioastronomie reports on high-resolution studies of an active galactic nucleus in the near-infrared. The observations were carried out with the Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI) of the European Southern Observatory (ESO). The use of near-infrared interferometry allowed the team to resolve a ring-shaped dust distribution (“dust torus”) in the inner region of the nucleus of the active galaxy NGC 3783. This dust torus probably represents the reservoir of gaseous and dusty material that “feeds” the hot gas disk (“accretion disk”) and the supermassive black hole in the center of this galaxy.
The resolved dust torus has an angular radius of only 0.7 milli-arcseconds on the sky, an angle that is 5 million times smaller than one degree. This angular radius corresponds to a radius of approximately 0.5 light years for a distance of 150 million light years. Studies of the physical properties of these dust tori are very important to improve our understanding of their structure and interaction with the accretion disk. To obtain these measurements, the light from up to three telescopes of the Very Large Telescope Interferometer was interferometrically combined. This method is able to achieve an angular resolution equivalent to the resolution of a telescope with a diameter of 130 Meters.
• Three-telescope interferometry allows astrophysicists to observe how black holes are fueled