Starting in the lower corona, solar flares are a product of extreme magnetic pressure; as magnetized loops of plasma push up from the sun's interior, creating active regions (and sunspots), the conditions may be right for magnetic reconnection to occur. During such events, massive quantities of energy are generated by the rapidly-accelerated coronal plasma, generating huge quantities of radiation. Through the SDO's high-definition eye, the accelerated plasma from this flare event can be seen propagating around a huge loop of magnetism - known as a coronal loop.
ANALYSIS: Sun Celebrates ‘Solar Max' New Year With Flare
We may have avoided feeling the full force of this flare, but the active region that generated it probably hasn't finished yet. Over the next few days, the active region will rotate into view, potentially generating more flares, some that may impact Earth.
The sun is currently undergoing a very exciting phase of its approximate 11-year cycle. Known as "solar maximum," this is a time when an increased frequency of flares and CMEs can be expected. Although this cycle's solar max is "below average," it can still surprise us, generating some very powerful eruptions like today's event.