The diffuse extended outer regions of galaxies are hard to study because they are faint, with typical surface brightness of 1% of the dark night sky. We can tackle this problem by using resolved star tracers which remain visible at large distances from the galaxy centers. This article describes the use of Planetary Nebulae as tracers and the calibration of their properties as indicators of the star formation history, mean age and metallicity of the parent stars in the Milky Way and Local Group galaxies. We then report on the results from a deep, extended, planetary nebulae survey in a 0.5 deg2 region centered on the brightest cluster galaxy NGC 4486 (M87) in the Virgo cluster core, carried out with SuprimeCam@Subaru and FLAMES-GIRAFFE@VLT. Two planetary nebulae populations are identified out to 150 kpc distance from the center of M87. One population is associated with the M87 halo and the second one with the intracluster light in the Virgo cluster core. They have different line-of-sight velocity and spatial distributions, as well as different planetary nebulae specific frequencies and luminosity functions. The intracluster planetary nebulae in the surveyed region correspond to a luminosity of four times the luminosity of the Large Magellanic Cloud. The M87 halo planetary nebulae trace an older, more metal-rich, parent stellar population. A substructure detected in the projected phase-space of the line-of-sight velocity vs. major axis distance for the M87 halo planetary nebulae provides evidence for the recent accretion event of a satellite galaxy with luminosity twice that of M33. The satellite stars were tidally stripped about 1 Gyr ago, and reached apocenter at a major axis distance of 60–90 kpc from the center of M87. The M87 halo is still growing significantly at the distances where the substructure is detected.