We can describe (some of) the dynamics of many systems using fluid mechanics. Of course these include classical fluids like water, more exotic fluids like photon gases and the universe as a whole and even solid(ish) things over long times, like glasses and ice. Further still we can treat general classical systems in phase space using a phase fluid, quantum systems (e.g. Madelung equations) and with a little bit of hand waving anything that happens on a symplectic manifold (which gives us a Hamiltonian and hence a flow and Louiville's theorem).

So what is it about a system that makes it obey a fluid model? Are there systems that definitely do not fit a fluid model?

(I realise that I haven't said exactly what I mean by "fluid model", this is somewhat deliberate. If you like you can take it to mean "having equations of motion which are (almost) identical in some form to the Euler equations".)

**edit:** Since admittedly, the original question wasn't quite clear I'll try to clarify a bit. I'm not looking for a high-school answer, or one which describes only actual literal physical fluids, e.g. "a fluid doesn't support a shear stress", "a fluid is something you can wash your hair with". I've given some examples above of situations that fit this description, and without further explanation I think it's non-obvious what a "mean free path" or similar would mean in a generalised fluid. What I'm really looking for (and there may not be any) is some overarching physical or mathematical principle, or failing that an argument as to why there isn't one. I'd even be quite happy to be directed to a book or more appropriate forum. I apologise for not being clearer before and appreciate the answers already given.

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-03-09 09:16 (UCT), posted by SE-user Sean D