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M. Feroci (Istituto di Astrofisica Spaziale - CNR Rome, Italy), K. Hurley (Univ. of California, Space Science Laboratory, Berkeley), R.C. Duncan (Univ. of Texas, Dep. of Astronomy, Austin), C. Thompson (Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics, Toronto, Canada)
We present a joint analysis of the Ulysses (25-150 keV) and BeppoSAX/GRBM (40-700 keV) data on the giant flare of 1998 August 27 from SGR 1900+14. This event was extraordinary in many ways: it was the most intense flux of gamma rays ever detected from a source outside our solar system; it was longer than any previously detected burst from a soft gamma repeater (SGR) in our Galaxy by more than an order of magnitude; and it showed a remarkable four-peaked, periodic pattern in hard X-rays with the same 5.16-s period that was observed in X-rays from the quiescent star. Since the two instruments operate in different energy ranges, a comparison of their data allow for both time-average and time-resolved spectral studies. We discuss some implications of these results for the SGRs. We also compare this event with the 1979 March 5 giant flare from SGR 0526-26, by newly-analyzed Venera/SIGNE and ISEE-3 data. Our results are consistent with the hypothesis that giant flares are due to catastrophic magnetic instabilities in highly magnetized neutron stars, or ``magnetars". In particular, observations indicate that the initial hard spike involved a relativistic outflow of pairs and hard gamma rays, plausibly triggered by a large propagating fracture in the crust of a neutron star with a field exceeding 1014 Gauss. Later stages in the light curve are accurately fit by a model for emission from the envelope of a magnetically-confined pair-photon fireball, anchored to the surface of the rotating star, which contracts as it emits X-rays and then evaporates completely in a finite time. The complex four-peaked shape of the light curve likely provides the most direct evidence known for a multipolar geometry in the magnetic field of a neutron star.