Now is a good time to check out progress of the planet Mars as it continues toward a historically close approach to the Earth later this summer. Mars rises between 2:30 and 2:45 a.m. local time for the next several mornings, and it is well up in the south-southeast by dawn. Mars is growing brighter each morning. It currently shines at magnitude 1.0, as bright as the star Spica, in the constellation Virgo, and just a trifle fainter than its so-called “rival,” the ruddy star Antares in the constellation of Scorpius, the Scorpion. Mars passed 5 degrees north of Antares on Feb. 1, but has since left it far behind to the west.