The interstellar medium in low metallicity environments
Bolatto Pereira, Alberto D
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This dissertation studies the interstellar medium (ISM) in dwarf galaxies. Dwarf galaxies are important because: 1) they constitute the largest fraction of extragalactic systems, and 2) they provide templates for primordial galaxies. Indeed, local active dwarf galaxies resemble primitive systems, since they are poor in dust and heavy elements and they are profusely forming massive stars. Because dwarf galaxies are nearby, however, they can be observed in much greater detail than distant primordial systems. Therefore studies of the ISM in nearby dwarf galaxies can be used to understand the processes at work in primitive galaxies. This work focuses on the effects of low heavy element abundances (i.e., low metallicities) on the star-forming ISM. Low metallicities are known to drastically affect the ISM. With decreasing metallicity, an increasingly large fraction of the molecular ISM is photodissociated into atoms and ions. We modeled and observed the emission of a sample of low metallicity dwarf galaxies in the millimeter, submillimeter, and far-infrared wavebands. The submillimeter waveband allows us to observe the mid-J rotational transitions of carbon monoxide (CO), the usual tracer of the molecular ISM, and the fine structure transit ions of neutral carbon ([C I]), a tracer of translucent and photodissociated material. We studied regions in the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds and the Northern Hemisphere dwarf galaxy IC 10. We find that the preponderant mechanism producing neutral carbon inside molecular clouds is photodissociation. We observe a moderate increase in the ratio of [C I] to CO emission for decreasing metallicity. Our models of clumpy, unresolved photo dissociation regions explain these observations as the natural result of an augmented fraction of photo dissociated material. Finally, our observations of the submillimeter thermal dust continuum in IC 10 find an abnormally low emissivity exponent for its graybody emission. We conclude that the unusual dust continuum is caused by the selective destruction of small grains, brought about by the combined effects of low metallicities and high radiation fields.
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