Thermal Phases of the Neutral Atomic Interstellar Medium from Solar Metallicity to Primordial Gas

Shmuel Bialy, Amiel Sternberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We study the thermal structure of the neutral atomic (H i) interstellar medium across a wide range of metallicities, from supersolar down to vanishing metallicity, and for varying UV intensities and cosmic-ray (CR) ionization rates. We calculate self-consistently the gas temperature and species abundances (with a special focus on the residual H2), assuming a thermal and chemical steady state. For solar metallicity, Z′ ≡ 1, we recover the known result that there exists a pressure range over which the gas is multiphased, with the warm (∼104 K, warm neutral medium (WNM)) and cold (∼100 K, cold neutral medium (CNM)) phases coexisting at the same pressure. At a metallicity Z′ ≈ 0.1, the CNM is colder (compared to Z′ = 1) due to the reduced efficiency of photoelectric heating. For Z′ ≲ 0.1, CR ionization becomes the dominant heating mechanism and the WNM-to-CNM transition shifts to ever-increasing pressure/density as the metallicity is reduced. For metallicities Z′ ≲ 0.01, H2 cooling becomes important, lowering the temperature of the WNM (down to ≈600 K), and smoothing out the multiphase phenomenon. At vanishing metallicities, H2 heating becomes effective and the multiphase phenomenon disappears entirely. We derive analytic expressions for the critical densities for the warm-to-cold phase transition in the different regimes, and the critical metallicities for H2 cooling and heating. We discuss potential implications on the star formation rates of galaxies and self-regulation theories.

Original languageEnglish
Article number160
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - 20 Aug 2019


  • ISM: molecules
  • early universe
  • galaxies: ISM
  • galaxies: high redshift
  • galaxies: star formation
  • galaxies: structure


Dive into the research topics of 'Thermal Phases of the Neutral Atomic Interstellar Medium from Solar Metallicity to Primordial Gas'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this