Published online by Cambridge University Press: 25 May 2016
A self-consistent analysis of near-UV, HST/FOC images of the elliptical galaxy NGC 4552 is used to show that its central spike has brightened by a factor ˜ 4.5 between 1991 and 1993, and has decreased its luminosity by a factor ˜ 2.0 between 1993 and 1996. A strong UV continuum over the energy distribution of the underlying galaxy is concurrently revealed shortward of λ ˜ 3200 Å by our FOS spectra extending from the near-UV to red wavelengths. Nuclear emission-line profiles of both permitted and forbidden lines are best modelled with a combination of broad and narrow components, with FWHM of ˜ 3000 km s−1 and ˜ 700 km s−1, respectively. Current diagnostics based on the emission line intensity ratios definitely places the spike among AGNs, just at the border between Seyferts and LINERs. This evidence argues for the variable central spike being produced by a modest accretion event onto a central massive black hole (BH), with the accreted material having possibly being stripped from a star in a close fly-by with the BH. In this regard, one has to look at NGC 4552 as the faintest known AGN.