Popular models for the origin of gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) include short-lived massive stars as the progenitors of the fireballs. Hence the redshift distribution of GRBs should track the cosmic star formation rate of massive stars accurately. A significant proportion of high-mass star formation activity appears to occur in regions that are obscured from view in the optical waveband by interstellar dust. The amount of dust-enshrouded star formation activity taking place has been estimated by observing the thermal radiation from the dust that has been heated by young stars in the far-infrared and submillimetre wavebands. Here we discuss an alternative probe — the redshift distribution of GRBs. GRBs are detectable at the highest redshifts, and because gamma-rays are not absorbed by dust, the redshift distribution of GRBs should therefore be unaffected by dust extinction. At present the redshifts of GRBs can only be determined from the associated optical transient emission; however, useful information about the prevalence of dust-obscured star formation can also be obtained from the ratio of GRBs with and without an associated optical transient. Eight GRBs currently have spectroscopic redshifts. Once about a hundred redshifts are known, the population of GRBs will provide an important test of different models of the star formation history of the Universe.

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