EDP Sciences
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Volume 474, Number 3, November II 2007
Page(s) 837 - 850
Section Extragalactic astronomy
DOI http://dx.doi.org/10.1051/0004-6361:20078369

A&A 474, 837-850 (2007)
DOI: 10.1051/0004-6361:20078369

Resolving the complex structure of the dust torus in the active nucleus of the Circinus galaxy

K. R. W. Tristram1, K. Meisenheimer1, W. Jaffe2, M. Schartmann1, H.-W. Rix1, Ch. Leinert1, S. Morel3, M. Wittkowski4, H. Röttgering2, G. Perrin5, B. Lopez6, D. Raban2, W. D. Cotton7, U. Graser1, F. Paresce4, and Th. Henning1

1  Max-Planck-Institut für Astronomie, Königstuhl 17, 69117 Heidelberg, Germany
    e-mail: [tristram;meise]@mpia.de
2  Leiden Observatory, Leiden University, Niels-Bohr-Weg 2, 2300 CA Leiden, The Netherlands
3  European Southern Observatory, Casilla 19001, Santiago 19, Chile
4  European Southern Observatory, Karl-Schwarzschild-Strasse 2, 85748 Garching bei München, Germany
5  LESIA, UMR 8109, Observatoire de Paris-Meudon, 5 place Jules Janssen, 92195 Meudon Cedex, France
6  Laboratoire Gemini, UMR 6203, Observatoire de la Côte d'Azur, BP 4229, 06304 Nice Cedex 4, France
7  NRAO, 520 Edgemont Road, Charlottesville, VA 22903-2475, USA

(Received 27 July 2007 / Accepted 27 August 2007)

Aims.To test the dust torus model for active galactic nuclei directly, we study the extent and morphology of the nuclear dust distribution in the Circinus galaxy using high resolution interferometric observations in the mid-infrared.
Methods.Observations were obtained with the MIDI instrument at the Very Large Telescope Interferometer. The 21 visibility points recorded are dispersed with a spectral resolution of $\lambda/\delta\lambda\approx30$ in the wavelength range from 8 to 13 $\mu{\rm m}$. To interpret the data we used a stepwise approach of modelling with increasing complexity. The final model consists of two black body Gaussian distributions with dust extinction.
Results.We find that the dust distribution in the nucleus of Circinus can be explained by two components, a dense and warm disk-like component of 0.4 pc size and a slightly cooler, geometrically thick torus component with a size of 2.0 pc. The disk component is oriented perpendicular to the ionisation cone and outflow and seems to show the silicate feature at 10 $\mu{\rm m}$ in emission. It coincides with a nuclear maser disk in orientation and size. From the energy needed to heat the dust, we infer a luminosity of the accretion disk of $L_{{\rm acc}}$ = 1010 ${L}_{\odot}$, which corresponds to 20% of the Eddington luminosity of the nuclear black hole. We find that the interferometric data are inconsistent with a simple, smooth and axisymmetric dust emission. The irregular behaviour of the visibilities and the shallow decrease of the dust temperature with radius provide strong evidence for a clumpy or filamentary dust structure. We see no evidence for dust reprocessing, as the silicate absorption profile is consistent with that of standard galactic dust. We argue that the collimation of the ionising radiation must originate in the geometrically thick torus component.
Conclusions.Based on a great leap forward in the quality and quantity of interferometric data, our findings confirm the presence of a geometrically thick, torus-like dust distribution in the nucleus of Circinus, as required in unified schemes of Seyfert galaxies. Several aspects of our data require that this torus is irregular, or "clumpy".

Key words: galaxies: active -- galaxies: nuclei -- galaxies: Seyfert -- galaxies: individual: Seyfert -- radiation mechanisms: thermal -- techniques: interferometric

© ESO 2007