Accepted for publication in Reviews of Modern Physics
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Abstract. Gamma-Ray Bursts (GRBs), short and intense pulses of low energy -rays, have fascinated astronomers and astrophysicists since their unexpected discovery in the late sixties. During the last decade, several space missions: BATSE (Burst and Transient Source Experiment) on Compton Gamma-Ray Observatory, BeppoSAX and now HETE II (High-Energy Transient Explorer), together with ground optical, infrared and radio observatories have revolutionized our understanding of GRBs showing that they are cosmological, that they are accompanied by long lasting afterglows and that they are associated with core collapse Supernovae. At the same time a theoretical understanding has emerged in the form of the fireball internal-external shocks model. According to this model GRBs are produced when the kinetic energy of an ultra-relativistic flow is dissipated in internal collisions. The afterglow arises when the flow is slowed down by shocks with the surrounding circum-burst matter. This model has numerous successful predictions like the prediction of the afterglow itself, the prediction of jet breaks in the afterglow light curve and of an optical flash that accompanies the GRBs themselves. In this review I focus on theoretical aspects and on physical processes believed to take place in GRBs.
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