The sun emitted a mid-level solar flare last night according to clocks in North America. Solar scientists classified it as an M-flare, in this case an M5.6-class flare. The flare peaked at 11:24 p.m. EST on January 12, 2015 (0424 UTC on January 13). The flare came from Sunspot AR2257.
Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation from the sun, which release potentially harmful radiation. In this case, there was no significant coronal mass ejection (CME) emerging from the site of the flare. That means there will be no increased sun-Earth interaction with this event, and no geomagnetic storms as a result, and thus no possibility of intense auroras caused by this flare (although the auroral displays over the past few days have been pretty good, anyway).
Radiation from a solar flare, by the way, cannot pass through Earth’s atmosphere to affect humans on the ground, but an extremely intense flare can disturb Earth’s atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel.
This solar flare caused a pulse of extreme UV radiation, which ionized Earth’s upper atmosphere over Australia and the Indian Ocean and may have caused a brief communications blackout at frequencies below about 10 MHz. See the map below.
Bottom line: The first notable solar flare of 2015 was an M-class flare that took place during the night of January 12, according to clocks in North America. There was no CME from the flare, and, although there might have been a brief communications blackout last night, no further effects are expected.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.