Quasars and active galactic nuclei (AGN) are likely powered by matter accretion onto a super-massive black hole located at their center. Before being swallowed by the black hole, matter spirals towards the center, while forming an accretion disc. Unfortunately, such a disc is too small so that one can in general solve it with present day telescopes. But the technique of radio interferometry with very long base (VLBI, with base length of the size of the earths radius) make it possible somehow. In some objects, very intense maser emission from small molecular clouds containing water vapor and probably related to the disc have been detected. From the rotation curve of the masing disc, one can deduce some of its properties (the disc mass, its size).
Jean-Marc Huré, from the Laboratory Universe and Theories (LUTH) at Observatory of Paris-Meudon and University Paris VII, comes to show that in galaxy NGC 1068, the accretion disc would have a mass comparable with that of the black hole (with about 9 million solar masses), and a size reaching one parsec (3 light-years). Such informations bring an additional proof that the discs of quasars and AGN are indeed gigantic systems.
Quasars were discovered at the end of the Sixties. They are, with their low luminosity analogues called "Active Galactic Nuclei" (or AGN), among the most luminous objects in the Universe. Today still, all the mechanisms which could release such a power are far from being understood. However, it seems rather well established that the matter accretion on a super-massive black hole is the key-process.
Jean-Pierre Luminet | alfa
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