By Chris WickhamPosted 2012/11/13 at 2:52 am EST

LONDON, Nov. 13, 2012 (Reuters) — An international team of astronomers has produced the first map of the universe as it was 11 billion years ago, filling a gap between the Big Bang and the rapid expansion that followed.

An illustration showing how SDSS-III was able to measure the distant universe. Light rays from distant quasars (dots at left) are partially absorbed as they pass through clouds of intergalactic hydrogen gas (centrE). CREDIT: Zosia Rostomian, LBNL; Nic Ross, BOSS Lyman-alpha team, LBNL; and Springel et al, Virgo Consortium and the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics

The study, published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, shows the universe went through a phase roughly three billion years after the Big Bang when expansion actually started to slow, before the force of so-called 'dark energy' kicked in and sent galaxies accelerating away from each other.

Much is known about the immediate aftermath of the Big Bang from studies of its afterglow in the cosmic background radiation, and its accelerating expansion over several billion years can be seen with a look at the way distant galaxies are moving.

"Only now are we finally seeing its adolescence... just before it underwent a growth spurt," said Mat Pieri at the University of Portsmouth in Britain, one of the authors of the study.