Interstellar H I and H2 in the Magellanic Clouds: An expanded sample based on ultraviolet absorption-line data

Daniel E. Welty, Rui Xue, Tony Wong

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We have determined column densities of H I and/or H2 for sight lines in the Magellanic Clouds from archival Hubble Space Telescope and Far-Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer spectra of H I Lyα and H 2 Lyman-band absorption. Together with some similar data from the literature, we now have absorption-based N(H I) and/or N(H2) for 285 Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) and Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC) sight lines (114 with a detection or limit for both species) - enabling more extensive, direct, and accurate determinations of molecular fractions, gas-to-dust ratios, and elemental depletions in these two nearby, low-metallicity galaxies. For sight lines where the N(H I) estimated from 21cm emission is significantly higher than the value derived from Lyα absorption (presumably due to emission from gas beyond the target stars), integration of the 21cm profile only over the velocity range seen in Na I or H2 absorption generally yields much better agreement. Conversely, N(21cm) can be lower than N(Lyα) by factors of 2-3 in some LMC sight lines - suggestive of small-scale structure within the 21cm beam(s) and/or some saturation in the emission. The mean gas-to-dust ratios obtained from N(Htot)/E(B - V) are larger than in our Galaxy, by factors of 2.8-2.9 in the LMC and 4.1-5.2 in the SMC - i.e., factors similar to the differences in metallicity. The N(H2)/E(B - V) ratios are more similar in the three galaxies, but with considerable scatter within each galaxy. These data may be used to test models of the atomic-to-molecular transition at low metallicities and predictions of N(H2) based on comparisons of 21cm emission and the IR emission from dust.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number173
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2012


  • ISM: abundances
  • Magellanic Clouds
  • galaxies: ISM
  • ultraviolet: ISM

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science

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