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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Characterizing the Interstellar and Circumgalactic Medium in Distant Star-Forming Galaxies

  • Author(s): Du, Xinnan
  • Advisor(s): Shapley, Alice E
  • et al.
Abstract

Rest-frame ultraviolet (UV) and optical spectroscopy provides valuable information on the physical properties of the neutral and ionized interstellar medium (ISM) in star-forming galaxies. Such observations probe both the systemic interstellar component originating from H II regions, and the multi-phase outflowing component that is associated with star-formation feedback and can ultimately contribute to the circumgalactic and even intergalactic medium (CGM and IGM, respectively). In this dissertation, I investigate the physical properties of ionized gas in star-forming regions, and the kinematics and evolution of the multi-phase outflowing ISM/CGM in distant star-forming galaxies spanning the redshift range z ~ 1-4. This work consists of three studies that examine different aspects of the ISM and CGM, which collectively improve our understanding of the gas content in galaxies and the processes associated with the formation of massive stars near the peak of the star-formation-rate (SFR) density in the universe. I present a comparison of kinematics between the low- and high-ionization absorption features at z ~ 1, and demonstrate that the apparent larger blueshift of interstellar C IV relative to the low-ionization features is likely a result from the nature of resonant transitions instead of an evidence of the faster motion of the highly ionized gas. I further investigate the origin of the highly ionized gas by examining the correlations between the spectral properties of C IV and various galaxy properties. Both the blueshift and equivalent width (EW) of C IV are modulated by SFR and specific SFR, suggesting a direct connection between the highly ionized gas and the formation of massive stars. Nebular emission features provide valuable insights into the physical conditions of the ionized gas in H II regions, as well as the properties of young, massive stars. I show that the nebular C III] emission at z ~ 1 is much weaker compared to the detections from galaxies observed during the epoch of reionization (z > 6), and explore the factors that modulate the strength of this nebular feature. In combination with the results from photoionization models, I further infer the gas-phase metallicity and abundance pattern in the z ~ 1 star-forming galaxies based on the observed rest-frame C III] EW. Studying the lower-redshift analogs of the z > 6 C III] emitters is an alternative way to obtain more detailed information on the physical properties of these extreme-emission-line-galaxies (EELGs). By assembling a sample of EELGs at z ~ 1-2 and examining C III] and other nebular emission features, I aim to characterize the physical conditions of the z > 6 galaxies that are likely responsible for the cosmic reionization. Finally, with carefully constructed samples and uniform measurements, I investigate the evolution of the ISM/CGM at z ~ 2-4 as probed by rest-UV spectroscopy. I discover redshift-independent correlations among Lya emission, low-ionization interstellar absorption lines, and dust extinction. I further show that the covering fraction of neutral gas decreases with increasing redshift at multiple fixed galaxy properties. Gaining a full understanding of galaxy evolution requires further studies of the ISM/CGM in a systemic manner at higher redshifts. With exceptional capabilities in the near-IR and excellent spectroscopic sensitivity, the next generation of large telescopes will enable rest-UV and rest-optical spectroscopic studies of star-forming galaxies out to z > 10. Answering key questions regarding the interplay among massive stars, their contribution to the ionizing background, and feedback will deliver a clear picture of the formation and evolution of these distant star-forming galaxies.

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