eso0128 — Science Release
Dancing around the Black Hole
14 August 2001: Supermassive Black Holes are present at the centres of many galaxies, some weighing hundreds of millions times more than the Sun. These extremely dense objects cannot be observed directly, but violently moving gas clouds and stars in their strong gravitational fields are responsible for the emission of energetic radiation from such "active galaxy nuclei" (AGN). A heavy Black Hole feeds agressively on its surroundings. When the neighbouring gas and stars finally spiral into the Black Hole, a substantial fraction of the infalling mass is transformed into pure energy. However, it is not yet well understood how, long before this dramatic event takes place, all that material is moved from the outer regions of the galaxy towards the central region. So how is the food for the central Black Hole delivered to the table in the first place? To cast more light on this central question, a team of French and Swiss astronomers  has carried out a series of trailblazing observations with the VLT Infrared Spectrometer And Array Camera (ISAAC) on the VLT 8.2-metre ANTU telescope at the ESO Paranal Observatory.