Investigating Nearby Star-Forming Galaxies in the Ultraviolet with HST/COS Spectroscopy. I: Spectral Analysis and Interstellar Abundance Determinations
This is the first in a series of three papers describing a project with the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph on the Hubble Space Telescope to measure abundances of the neutral interstellar medium (ISM) in a sample of 9 nearby star-forming galaxies. The goal is to assess the (in)homogeneities of the multiphase ISM in galaxies where the bulk of metals can be hidden in the neutral phase, yet the metallicity is inferred from the ionized gas in the HII regions. The sample, spanning a wide range in physical properties, is to date the best suited to investigate the metallicity behavior of the neutral gas at redshift z=0. ISM absorption lines were detected against the far-ultraviolet spectra of the brightest star-forming region(s) within each galaxy. Here we report on the observations, data reduction, and analysis of these spectra. Column densities were measured by a multi-component line-profile fitting technique, and neutral-gas abundances were obtained for a wide range of elements. Several caveats were considered including line saturation, ionization corrections, and dust depletion. Ionization effects were quantified with `ad-hoc’ CLOUDY models reproducing the complex photoionization structure of the ionized and neutral gas surrounding the UV-bright sources. An `average spectrum of a redshift z=0 star-forming galaxy’ was obtained from the average column densities of unsaturated profiles of neutral-gas species. This template can be used as a powerful tool for studies of the neutral ISM at both low and high redshift.