Malaysia Flight 370 search area shifts as satellite sightings raise hope

 It's been nearly three weeks since Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 vanished. Malaysian authorities say the plane went down in the southern Indian Ocean. Search efforts are concentrated in an area far off Australia's west coast.

What's the latest?

Australian authorities said Friday that they have shifted the search area to a different patch of ocean. The new area is 1,100 kilometers (680 miles) to the northeast of where search operations had been focused.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority said it decided to move the ships and planes looking for traces of Flight 370 to the new area after "a new credible lead" provided by investigators in Malaysia.

The new information, based on an analysis of radar data on the night the plane disappeared, suggests the aircraft was traveling faster than previously estimated before it dropped off radar, the Australian agency said.

That means the plane is thought to have burned more fuel than previously calculated, shortening the possible distance it flew south into the Indian Ocean.

What about all those objects in satellite photos?

Several countries have reported detecting clusters of objects that could be debris from the plane in satellite imagery captured over the past two weeks.

But those objects have generally been in an area roughly 1,500 miles (2,500 kilometers) southwest of Perth, the western Australian city that's the hub for search operations.

The new area that the search teams are focusing on is closer to Australia's west coast.

Despite all the reports of objects, Australian authorities say that experts have determined that the new area "is the most credible lead to where debris may be located."

The Australian maritime agency says weather conditions have improved in the area after flights were suspended Thursday. Ten aircraft have been tasked to carry out flights Friday, it said.

What's in the latest satellite photos?

The Japanese government announced that one of its intelligence satellites had spotted some objects Wednesday. Earlier, Thai officials said one of their satellites located 300 objects that could be linked to the missing plane.

The Thai image, shot Monday, shows a collection of objects ranging in size from 6 feet (2 meters) to 50 feet (15 meters), according to Thailand's Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency.

They were spotted about 125 miles (201 kilometers) away from where a French satellite captured a floating group of 122 objects Sunday.

The Japanese image shows 10 objects, the largest of which is square and about 13 feet by 26 feet (4 meters to 8 meters), according to the Japanese Cabinet Intelligence and Research Office.

Like the other recent satellite sightings, the objects are about 1,550 miles off western Australia.

Could these objects be plane debris?

It's certainly possible, but we won't know for sure until one of the ships combing the region hauls some of the objects up and examines them firsthand, experts say. And that's proving to be tough. The objects may well be drifting in swift ocean currents, and experts say some of what we're seeing could be an optical illusion.

For instance, they could be just whitecapped waves, CNN aviation analyst Jeff Wise said.

Stephen Wood, a former CIA analyst, said the number and size of the objects in the latest image also raises questions about whether they could be related to the plane.

"If you see something floating that's 60 feet across, that could be a big chunk of fuselage," he said. "But if you have 10 pieces that are 60 feet across, that would indicate that they're not from the plane because the plane has only so much stuff in it."

It seems like we always hear about these satellite photos a few days after they were taken. Why?

Australian and Thai authorities have said it takes a few days to go through the images, analyze them and send them along to Malaysian authorities. The area being scanned is awfully large, after all, and analyzing the images for interesting objects can be a painstaking process.

How many countries are involved in search efforts?

Malaysia is coordinating the search, which involves crews from six countries. Australia is leading the effort, based out of Perth, with China, New Zealand, the United States, South Korea and Japan contributing aircraft. China has also sent ships to help the search effort.

How are the families of those onboard?

Family members are anguished as they wait for answers. One-third of the plane's passengers were Chinese, and Malaysian authorities' announcement Monday that families should give up hope that their loved ones were alive angered many Chinese.

"My heart can't handle it. I don't want to hurt my children," Cheng Li Ping told CNN as she waited in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for evidence about what happened to her husband.

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