Soft γ-ray repeaters exhibit bursting emission in hard X-rays and soft γ-rays. During the active phase, they emit random short (milliseconds to several seconds long), hard-X-ray bursts, with peak luminosities1 of 1036 to 1043 erg per second. Occasionally, a giant flare with an energy of around 1044 to 1046 erg is emitted2. These phenomena are thought to arise from neutron stars with extremely high magnetic fields (1014 to 1015 gauss), called magnetars1,3,4. A portion of the second-long initial pulse of a giant flare in some respects mimics short γ-ray bursts5,6, which have recently been identified as resulting from the merger of two neutron stars accompanied by gravitational-wave emission7. Two γ-ray bursts, GRB 051103 and GRB 070201, have been associated with giant flares2,8–11. Here we report observations of the γ-ray burst GRB 200415A, which we localized to a 20-square-arcmin region of the starburst galaxy NGC 253, located about 3.5 million parsecs away. The burst had a sharp, millisecond-scale hard spectrum in the initial pulse, which was followed by steady fading and softening over 0.2 seconds. The energy released (roughly 1.3 × 1046 erg) is similar to that of the superflare5,12,13 from the Galactic soft γ-ray repeater SGR 1806−20 (roughly 2.3 × 1046 erg). We argue that GRB 200415A is a giant flare from a magnetar in NGC 253.
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