Gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) are flashes of gamma rays associated with extremely energetic explosions in distant galaxies. They are the most luminous electromagnetic events occurring in the universe. Bursts can last from milliseconds to nearly an hour, although a typical burst lasts a few seconds. The initial burst is usually followed by a longer-lived "afterglow" emitting at longer wavelengths (X-ray, ultraviolet, optical, infrared, and radio).
Currently orbiting satellites detect an average of about one gamma-ray burst per day. Because gamma-ray bursts are visible to distances encompassing most of the observable universe, a volume encompassing many billions of galaxies, this suggests that gamma-ray bursts must be exceedingly rare events per galaxy. Measuring the exact rate is difficult, but for a galaxy of approximately the same size as the Milky Way, the expected rate (for long GRBs) is about one burst every 100,000 to 1,000,000 years. Only a few percent of these would be beamed towards Earth. Estimates of rates of short GRBs are even more uncertain because of the unknown beaming fraction, but are probably comparable.