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20 October 2004 Observing the Seyfert 2 nucleus of NGC 1068 with the VLT interferometer
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Dusty tori have been suggested to play a crucial role in determining the physical characteristics of active galactic nuclei (AGN), but investigation of their properties has stalled for lack of high resolution mid-IR imaging. Recently, a long-awaited breakthrough in this field was achieved: NGC 1068, a nearby AGN, was the first extragalactic object to be observed with a mid-IR interferometer, thereby obtaining the needed angular resolution to study the alleged torus. The instrument used was MIDI mounted on the ESO's VLT interferometer. The resulting 8-13 micron interferometric spectra indicated the presence of a thick (3 x 4 parsec) configuration of warm dust surrounding a hot ~1 pc component, marginally elongated in the direction perpendicular to the main orientation of the warm component. The structure of the 10 micron "silicate" absorption feature hinted at the presence of non-typical dust. In this proceeding, first the field of AGN research is briefly reviewed, with an emphasis on models of dusty tori. Second, the general properties of the key object NGC 1068 are discussed. Third, the MIDI data set is presented together with a first attempt to interpret this data in the context of tori models. Fourth, preliminary MIDI interferometric spectra of the nucleus of the nearby starbursting galaxy Circinus are presented. The apparent observed absence of both a hot component as well as a sharp absorption feature suggest that we view the torus more edge-on than is the case for NGC 1068. Finally, we briefly discuss the prospects of ESA's Darwin mission for observing nearby and distant AGN. The required capabilities for Darwin's first goal -- the search for and subsequent characterization of earth-like planets orbiting nearby stars -- are such that for its second goal -- high resolution astrophysical imaging -- the sensitivity will be similar to JWST and the angular resolution 1-2 orders better. This will allow detailed mapping of tori of low luminosity AGN such as NGC 1068 up to redshifts of 1 - 2 and more luminous AGN up to redshift of 10 and beyond.
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Huub Rottgering, Walter J. Jaffe, Klaus Meisenheimer, Helene Sol, Christoph Leinert, Andrea Richichi, and Markus Wittkowski "Observing the Seyfert 2 nucleus of NGC 1068 with the VLT interferometer", Proc. SPIE 5491, New Frontiers in Stellar Interferometry, (20 October 2004);

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