Officials have followed through with their vow to double the search area for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Though just 75% of the initial 23,000-square-mile search zone has been scoured, a statement today says the area has now expanded to 46,000 square miles—about the size of Pennsylvania—in the southern Indian Ocean, NBC News reports. "The search into the expanded area has already commenced, with search efforts focused in the south to take advantage of the last of the usable weather in that area," the Australian Transport Safety Bureau says. As winter weather in the area will make the search difficult, "the search plan has been modified to enable continuous search operations during winter and to ensure that the entire area is searched as quickly and effectively as possible."
The new search area, based on satellite data and pings from the plane, offers the "highest probability" of finding the Boeing 777, officials say. "Beyond that, it is not possible to refine the search area to one of greater likelihood." Search crews received a boost of confidence with the discovery of a shipwreck last week because it meant their technology was working, Popular Mechanics reports. However, the robot crucial to that find will be shelved until weather improves, meaning the search could slow. A rep for the National Transportation Safety Board says it's unlikely the search would be abandoned even if the plane isn't found in the new area. "This is so important, not to mention a matter of national pride" to Australia, Malaysia, and China, he says. "It's a big ocean, but I think they will find some wreckage at some point." (Read more Flight 370 stories.)