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A giant periodic flare from the soft γ-ray repeater SGR1900+14


Soft γ-ray repeaters are transient sources of high-energy photons; they emit sporadic and short (about 0.1 s) bursts of ‘soft’ γ-rays during periods of activity, which are often broken by long stretches of quiescence. These objects are associated with neutron stars in young supernova remnants1. The event of 5 March 1979 was the most intense burst to date, and the only one that showed a clear periodicity in the signal2,3. Here we report the detection, on 27 August 1998, of an even more intense burst from a different soft γ-ray repeater. This event was characterized by ‘hard’ γ-rays at its peak, followed by a tail 300 s long with a soft spectrum and a clear periodicity of 5.16 s. The burst was probably initiated by a massive disruption of the crust of the neutron star, followed by an outflow of energetic particles rotating with the period of the star. A comparison of the events of 27 August 1998 and 5 March 1979 supports the idea that magnetic energy plays an important role in the genesis of such events. Although these giant flares are rare, they are not unique events and may occur at any time in a neutron star's activity cycle.

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Figure 1: Ulysses data for the 27 August 1998 giant flare.


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We thank R. Duncan for discussions about the magnetic field estimate. This work was supported in the US by NASA and a contract from JPL, and at the Ioffe Institute by an RSA contract.

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Hurley, K., Cline, T., Mazets, E. et al. A giant periodic flare from the soft γ-ray repeater SGR1900+14 . Nature 397, 41–43 (1999).

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