Posted on: March 25, 2014 - NPR

Searchers are feeling overwhelmed by the task of locating the wreckage of missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370.

“We’re not searching for a needle in a haystack — we’re still trying to define where the haystack is,” Australian Air Marshal Mark Binskin said Tuesday. The current search zone stretches across many thousands of square miles of the Indian Ocean off the coast of Australia.

But a 250-year-old mathematical theorem developed by an English minister might be able to do what a small armada of satellites, planes and ships cannot — provide a location (or at least a guess) of where the missing plane might be.

The theorem in question was developed by Thomas Bayes, a Presbyterian minister who was a big fan of Isaac Newton and other scientists of the day. Bayes thought very carefully about probability and developed a theorem for combining different probabilities.

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