The nucleus of the nearby galaxy NGC 1097 is known to host a young, compact (r < 9 pc) nuclear star cluster, as well as a low-luminosity active galactic nucleus (AGN). It has been suggested both that the nuclear stellar cluster is associated with a dusty torus and that low-luminosity AGNs like NGC 1097 do not have the torus predicted by the unified model of AGNs. To investigate these contradictory possibilities we have acquired Gemini/T-ReCS 11.7 and 18.3 μm images of the central few hundred parsecs of this galaxy at <45 pc angular resolution, in which the nucleus and spectacular, kiloparsec-scale star-forming ring are detected in both bands. The small-scale mid-IR luminosity implies thermal emission from warm dust close to the central engine. Fitting of torus models shows that the observed mid-IR emission cannot be accounted for by dust heated by the central engine. Rather, the principal source heating the dust in this object is the nuclear star cluster itself, suggesting that the detected dust is not the torus of AGN unified schemes (although it is also possible that the dusty starburst itself could provide the obscuration invoked by the unified model). Comparison of Spitzer IRS and Gemini GNIRS spectra shows that, although PAH bands are strong in the immediate circumnuclear region of the galaxy, PAH emission is weak or absent in the central 19 pc. The lack of PAH emission can probably be explained largely by destruction/ionization of PAH molecules by hard photons from the nuclear star cluster. If NGC 1097 is typical, PAH emission bands may not be a useful tool with which to find very compact nuclear starbursts even in low-luminosity AGNs.

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Published in The Astrophysical Journal, v. 659, no. 1, p. 241-249.

© 2007. The American Astronomical Society. All rights reserved.

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